Lots of people in the world are fortunate enough to see great ballet but we in New York really take the cake. Where else can one see, in a single week, the best Bournonville dancers, the best Petipa dancers, and the best Balanchine dancers on the planet dance their masters' greatest works? We should feel guilty about our wealth and privilege of seeing the Royal Danish Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, and the New York City Ballet power up their greatest works for us all in a span of one week. But in true New Yorker fashion, most of us just complain about the cold. Well, it was cold yesterday – a double gloves day, to be sure.
But that didn’t stop everyone who could get a ticket from showing up at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea for the opening night of the program being presented by The Royal Danish Ballet: Principals and Soloists which is a small touring group of thirteen dancers put together by the young, charismatic Ulrik Birkkjaer, a principal dancer with the company since 2009. Haglund first saw the RDB as a touring group when Flemming Flindt brought the same type of program to Cincinnati more than a half century ago. It didn’t matter then and it didn’t matter last night that the music was recorded or that the stage was bare of scenery.
The Danes brought a delicious program of small bites – a sampler plate of the most flavorful Bournonville forretter. This was no basic rye bread and herring evening, either. The six excerpts presented spanned 45 years of Bournonville’s creative output and included the pas de sept from A Folk Tale, pas de deux from The Flower Festival in Genzano, Jockey Dance, Act II of La Sylphide, the pas de trois from Le Conservatoire, and Act III from Napoli.
With the exception of the wing loss, blindness, and ultimate death in La Sylphide, the whole evening was a very happy, witty, uplifting affair. No other company in the world has dancers whose feet are as flexible and articulate as hands. Watching Susanne Grinder travel from point to point could leave you spellbound if you focused on the soft bending soles of her shoes.
And all those en dedans pirouettes that finished (mostly) in fifth position – they’re always so much harder than ripping off multiple en dehors revolutions that end with the dancer falling off releve into fourth position. And those pique arabesques that rotated to a la seconde position and returned to arabesque, the true sautes ronde de jambe, the buoyancy of the batterie, pirouettes with the foot sur le coup-de-pied, the presenting hands in the port de bras, and the chasse contretemps where the back leg ended up in front – all performed with calm clarity and loving detail by the dancers. The precise use of the upper body with the eyes always either following the working leg or the presenting hands (as opposed to appearing to look in a mirror or throwing the chin at the audience) makes these dancers look among the most educated that we see in New York.
Gudrun Bojesen and Ulrik Birkkjaer were Haglund’s favorites in the Act II from La Sylphide. According to the program notes, James "falls in love with La Sylphide and follows her into the woods. She becomes his destiny and the cause of his breaking away from the bourgeois world to which he is about to commit himself“ by marrying Effie. It’s a little twist on the ballet’s commonly understood theme of James losing the wonderful life he could have had because he chose to chase after the unattainable. Ms. Bojesen, who has been with the company more than twenty years, was the ultimate romantic sprite who floated so gently from point to point that you fell under her spell right along with James. Birkkjaer, who danced in three of the six ballets, had wonderful ballon and airy jumps. He made it all look so effortless. RDB icon Sorella Englund's Madge cast a wide, wide spell with her incredible mime.
It’s not often these days that we see truly great classical ballet at the Joyce Theater which generally presents more contemporary programing, but we’re seeing it there this week. Thanks to Ulrik Birkkjaer for putting together this tour. He’s taking home the H.H. Pump Bump Award, a Camilla Skovgaard original which reminded Haglund of New York's new Calatrava Path Station.