Soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet light up Jacob's Pillow
Lee, Mass. — Effervescence and sparkle are appropriate qualities for a celebration, and the Soloists of the Royal Danish Ballet spread plenty around in the opening night of a week at Jacob's Pillow, the perennial summer dance center in the Berkshire Mountains. Marking its 10th year of summer touring, the chamber group from Copenhagen offers classical dancing in the distinctive style of its great national choreographer, August Bournonville.
Ballet dancing is not all alike, and, seeing the Danes again after a while, I always have to refocus my attention. Like a photographer pulling in the lens, I adjust from the big, restless drive of American dancing to smaller, subtler pleasures. Bournonville dancers are step virtuosos, with elegant flashing feet that can scissor neatly back to their starting positions after a blur of batterie or turns. They are famous for their soaring jumps and their sumptuous open poses. Part of their fascination lies in the contrast between this exacting step work and the contained, centered body from which it bursts out.
Although Bournonville -- who died over 100 years ago -- worked in the traditional 19th-century medium of big costume-story ballets, the heart of his spectacles was always the dancing.
This is why the Soloists group can mount successful programs in miniature, without sets, orchestra, or the peripheral color found in the originals. They closed their program at the Pillow with the Pas de Six and Tarantella from ``Napoli,'' framing its ceaseless flow of tiny, brilliant solos and duets with the camaraderie of a village post office.
The evening opened with ``Bournonville-Divertissements,'' showcasing facets of the style, from etudes for small ensembles to more theatrical numbers, like the comic ``Jockey Dance,'' with two competing males (Peter Bo Bendixen and Ib Jeppesen).
Big Bournonville ballets also demanded specialty dances like the ``Polka Militaire'' (Lise Stripp and Poul Erik Hesselkilde), and charming duets like the pas de deux from ``Flower Festival in Genzano,'' danced on opening night by Henriette Muus and Alexander Kolpin, two recent winners at the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss.
Although there can be no new Bournonville to refresh the repertory, artistic director Dinna Bjorn has been particularly resourceful in discovering little-known fragments that can be restored, and related curios such as the lively peasant number, Dance of Joy from ``The Little Mermaid,'' by Hans Beck, Bournonville's most devoted successor at the Royal Theater.
Aware of the fossilizing effect of the conservatory mode, Ms. Bjorn is also concerned with adding new choreography, and ``Sad Songs,'' made this summer by the young Dutch choreographer Nils Christe, is the latest effort in this line. Set to Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, the ballet inevitably invokes the definitive Mahler ballet -- Antony Tudor's ``Dark Elegies,'' choreographed in 1937 to the same music.
Mr. Christe's work meditates on women as sorrowing and comforting beings, with the men stoically maneuvering and steadying them.
Christe has appropriated the angular shapes and solemn tone of Tudor's masterpiece, but his ballet is unfocused, a series of modern-looking, acrobatic duets, each ending in an applause-provoking blackout. Inexplicably, Christe didn't make any use of the community feeling which is the company's life-blood and which gives ``Dark Elegies'' its ritual compassion.
The dancers looked expressive in the piece, especially Frank Andersen, who was co-founder with Bjorn of the Soloists group. With typical Danish modesty, he's just one of the troops here, though back in Copenhagen he's now director of the Royal Danish Ballet itself.