By Anne-Marie Elmby
In June, nine Royal Danish Ballet dancers travelled to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, organized by Cultural Adventures Copenhagen, which was founded in 2017 by former dancers Morten Eggert and Christian Hammeken. In July, another group from the company visited the Joyce Theater in New York, a trip organized by Ulrik Birkkjær (now a principal with San Francisco Ballet). Both groups presented examples of the Bournonville repertoire that is so important to the tradition of Danish ballet.
Tobias Praetorius, who was part of both tour groups, was busy as well in August, dancing with and choreographing for Kammerballetten (the Chamber Ballet), founded last year by Trio Vitruvi and members of the Royal Danish Ballet. Praetorius was the gallant cavalier for Emma Håkansson and Stephanie Chen Gundorph in Adam Lüders’ Suite Italienne, which incorporated both elegance and sprightly wit, echoing the commedia dell’arte and neoclassical themes present in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, here in chamber version.
As choreographer, Praetorius embraced the musical temper of J.S. Bach’s Schübler Chorales in his Chorale Dances. Without conveying a specific religious message, he created an impression of a caring bond when black-costumed Liam Redhead lifted Ida Praetorius, in a white dress, her flexed feet walking in the air searching for a foothold. Later, in a compelling solo, Tomash reflected a darker mood that was lightened when brothers Vitor and Guilherme Menezes joined him onstage in flying jumps.
Other pieces included Kristian Lever’s Fracture, an emotional dialogue to Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, and Absolute Pitch-Black, an example of choreographer Sebastian Kloborg’s quirky humour. Wardrobe racks full of black costumes and even a grand piano were wheeled around involving both musicians and dancers in amusing and grotesque happenings. Håkansson’s over-excited embrace of patient pianist Alexander McKenzie almost prevented his playing until, after a short blackout, a bouquet of long, blond hair was visible sticking out of the closed grand piano. Luckily, she appeared unscathed for the grand applause.
Bellevue Theatre north of Copenhagen resumed its Summer Ballet tradition with Danish Design, with idea and choreography by René Vinther and featuring Alban Lendorf, a rare visitor to Denmark after he left the Royal Danish Ballet for a position as principal with American Ballet Theatre. With corporeal intensity, Lendorf’s character expressed an architect’s frustration and struggle with his material. Impressive video design had him chasing inspiration in the form of a white smoke outline that repeatedly swept around on the borders, but vanished when he reached for it.
Six white-chalked dancers embodied the architect’s elusive material, while huge, movable boxes provided concrete obstacles. At one point, Lendorf swayed as if weightless from the ceiling against a starry backdrop sky as in a dream that eventually sublimated into the creation of the Bellevue Theatre, its architect Arne Jacobsen’s designs enlarged on the backdrop. As prologue, a short documentary portrayed renowned Danish designers and in the foyer examples of Danish furniture designs complimented the theme.
With Copenhagen Summer Dance at Kvæsthusmolen, a pier in the centre of the city, Danish Dance Theatre had the perfect site-specific space for artistic director Pontus Lidberg’s River. His eight dancers moved like an organic stream in fluttering costumes with colours that imitated shimmering water.
Part of the same mixed bill was Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf, who in 2012 won the fifth Copenhagen International Choreography Competition with the duet Six Years Later. Now his weighty The Hill, inspired by war veterans, initially demonstrated the humorous camaraderie of a male trio that turned into a disturbing scene when warlike sounds sent one of them to the ground, their happy world senselessly shattered.
A late-night extra on another evening at Kvæsthusmolen presented Italian choreographer Pietro Marullo’s Wreck, which featured an enormous black, amorphous, air-filled shape that floated around as if by invisible force and repeatedly threatened to drown the audience like a huge wave. Onstage, dancers now and then appeared in spotlights frozen in poses that embodied bewilderment and fear; later, they frantically ran or fell over, before the floating shape was, with great effort, punctured and the overpowering sensation of a stormy sea finally calmed down.
Tivoli closed the summer season with the 17th visit since 1981 by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The audience here loves the company, and the dancers responded in six performances of unlimited energy. Especially poignant was Rennie Harris’ Lazarus inspired by Ailey’s “blood memories” and experiences of racism in the southern United States, which came to permeate his life and fuelled his artistic need to found the dance company in 1958.
Part I gave stirring insight into former times, often by singling out one individual as victim in the danced narrative. Part II enthused the audience with a contemporary, life-affirming whirlwind of footwork and hip-hop moves at tearing speed pushed on by Darrin Ross’ insistent musical rhythms, before the score quieted down with quotes from Ailey himself, ending with his affirmative words “I am!” His spirit, for sure, lives on in the company.
DI WINTER 2019