By Fredrik Rütter

It has been 30 years since the first performance of Peer Gynt by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen on the shore of Gålå Lake, which is situated in the heart of the mountain chain where the play is set. This year’s Peer Gynt Festival in August featured a new production of the Ibsen piece, directed by Marit Moum Aune, who was previously involved in two ballets by the Norwegian National Ballet, based on Ibsen’s Ghosts and Hedda Gabler. Aune’s staging of Peer Gynt includes choreography by Silas Henriksen, a soloist from the Norwegian National Ballet. Another company soloist, Grete Sofie Borud Nybakken, was cast as Solveig, the play’s main female character.

Henriksen was also onstage, dancing the inner thoughts of Peer Gynt, while an actor played the actual character. It was a good idea, but it did not work out through the whole play; it is not easy to find the right way to express another person’s feelings and mood, and Henrikson often was only walking slowly around looking very introverted. Nybakken was both actor and dancer for her role as Solveig, who waits for her lover to return to their Norwegian home after he has been travelling the world trying to find himself. In the case of Peer Gynt, that takes a lifetime. Nybakken had some very nice solos with long lines and high extensions, some danced in the water, which covered parts of the stage. Having two dancers as part of the cast gave the performance an extra dimension.

Just before the dancers of the Norwegian National Ballet could leave for a very deserved vacation at the end of June, they danced an evening titled White Nights. The title reflected two things: the ballets on the program and the bright white nights in Scandinavia at this time of the year.

The evening opened with the white act from La Bayadère, The Kingdom of the Shades, which is always a challenge for the female corps de ballet. The entrance coming down the inclined ramp is really tough, and the 24 women have to dance in unison, but they pulled it off with bravura. As Nikiya, Maria Kochetkova had fantastic technique, and though she is tiny she managed to make her lines seem neverending. Partnering her must be a joy, and Yoel Carreño as Solor was a great match.

The men were challenged when the curtain opened for Secus by Mr. Gaga, Ohad Naharin, for 17 male dancers and one female, Melissa Hough. Naharin’s choreographic language is explosive, wild and energetic. In his works, the dancers have only one thing to do: go all in. This is not a story ballet, but small short stories emerge. Some have humour — for instance, at one point not everybody on the stage is feeling well — and one can see the contours of everyday life. The short moment Hough was onstage, she threw herself into the dance with a fearless force.

The last piece on the program was George Balanchine’s Symphony in C, which has been in the repertoire of the company since 1967. It was staged by Patricia Neary, a former New York City Ballet dancer who has been long active with the Balanchine Trust and has been a frequent guest to Oslo over many years, staging several Balanchine ballets here.

In this ballet, both the soloists and the corps de ballet have opportunities to shine. In the first movement, Whitney Jensen and Ricardo Castellanos gave the impression they were having great fun, and the chemistry between them was impeccable. The tempo in this movement was fast, which might have been the reason that the corps did not keep up the whole time. Nybakken, in the adagio movement, danced with an expression on her face like an ice queen, which did not suit the mood of the movement, though Philip Currell was an excellent partner.

During the third movement, the Japanese couple Leyna Magbutay and Gakuro Matsui went for extreme speed, and they managed to transfer their enthusiasm to the audience. Eugenie Skilnand and Douwe Dekkers had the advantage of enthusiasm in the fourth movement, which they performed beautifully, with the whole cast in the grand coda easily following the quick baton of conductor Per Kristian Skalstad. When music and dance is performed this way, it is a joy to have the privilege to sit in the audience.

DI WINTER 2019

Norwegian National Ballet’s Grete Sofie Borud Nybakken (as Solveig, running in the middle ground) in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, directed by Marit Moum Aune, choreographed by Silas Henriksen
Photo: Bård Gundersen