Royal Danish Ballet at the Guggenheim

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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Works & Process
Royal Danish Ballet
Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday night’s sold-out Works & Process performance/conversation with dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet and artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe featured excerpts from the legendary company’s upcoming U.S. tour, including highlights from August Bournonville’s Variations, The Jockey Dance, A Folk Tale, and La Sylphide; Jorma Elo’s Lost on Slow; and Hübbe’s new staging of Napoli.

The dancers – a generous group of five principals, four soloists, and one terrific corps member – performed courageously (and victoriously) on a small stage with low-hanging lights and a glassy floor. Not to complain; the auditorium – part of Wright’s original design – offers a privileged, studio-like view of world-class dancing and dance-making.

The Royal Danish Ballet has found a uniquely well-formed artistic director in Nikolaj Hübbe. Hübbe trained and danced in Copenhagen until 1992 when he joined New York City Ballet as a principal. He has an authentic and manifest deep regard for dance and dancers, and an unaffected recognition of his pivotal responsibility for the future of ballet, whatever that future will be.

For his happy few to join him for this workshop presentation, Hübbe chose from the 95 dancers in his company Principals Susanne Grinder, Amy Watson, Jean-Lucien Massot, Thomas Lund, and Ulrik Birkkjær; Soloists Kizzy Matiakis, Nikolaj Hansen, Alban Lendorf, and Alexander Stæger; and Alba Nadal from the Corps de Ballet.

Lendorf, Birkkjaer, Lund, Hansen, and Staeger began the evening with quick, fleet-footed excerpts from Bournonville Variations, which helped to establish a major theme of the evening’s conversation between Hübbe and moderator John Meehan: the deep artistic connection between Bournonville and Balanchine and between RBD and NYCB.

Watson and Massot followed with a strictly controlled duet from Jorma Elo’s insect-y Lost on Slow. Lund and Lendorf danced and whipped with good comedic flair in “The Jockey Dance” from a late (1876) Bournonville ballet, From Siberia to Moscow. Alba Nadal shone in her turn with Grinder, Matiakis, and Watkins as the gypsie girls in a pas de sept from Bournonville’s A Folk Tale, along with Birkkjær, Hansen, and Stæger.

Grinder and Birkkjær danced an affecting Window Scene and Death Scene from La Sylphide and, in a final duet, Watson and Stæger performed the pas de deux from Act 1 of Napoli before the entire group nearly brought down the house (literally, considering those low-hanging lights) with a fearless essay of the Tarantella in the confined quarters of the Lewis Theatre. In all seriousness, the viewer sat in awe of these dancers’ finely honed sense of proprioception – that “sixth sense” of knowing where one’s body is in space.

Well-wrought classical ballet, danced with spontaneity, fire, and, at key moments, breathtaking nonchalance. Inspiring on so many levels.

The program is sold out again tonight (Monday), but the Guggenheim is generously streaming online. For information about the Royal Danish Ballet’s 2011 U.S. tour, visit the company’s website.