Thursday, March 29, 2012

Changes.


As some of you will know, I’ve done quite a bit of writing about dance in the past few years. However, I’ve never really ventured into reviewing – I always felt uncomfortable about it because I am terribly soft at heart when it comes to judging the work of people I know, regardless of whether they’re friends, colleagues or just acquaintances. But last week, I decided to do a tiny foray into the world of evaluation and assessment – mainly because I figured, hey, this is my blog, I can be biased and soft at heart as much as I want, but also because the performance I wrote about was so brilliant that I felt like I had to share it with you guys. And yesterday, the committee behind the Danish Theatre Awards proved me right, when they nominated Tina Tarpgaard’s Living Room as Dance Performance of the Year.  
While I’ve never officially reviewed a performance I have done more than my share of recommendations – on Facebook, at parties, through friends, you name it. Get me talking about dance and you’ll be sure to leave an hour later with your head full of dance performances for the next few weeks. And while I am lucky enough to live in a city filled to the brim with amazing dance performances of all sorts, I am also still very much involved with the dance world in Copenhagen, and every once in a while there will be a performance that I really, really, REALLY want to see, but I’ll have to miss out on it because I just can’t make it to Copenhagen. And this is where you come in, dear readers. Because not only will I be throwing around recommendations of dance performances in London, I will also be telling you about what I’m missing in Copenhagen – thus encouraging those of you based in CPH to go, so I can live vicariously through you.  
Anyway, I just wanted to give you a bit more of an idea about these dance-related posts, because I feel like I stumbled into it a bit last week, with my very quick and rather short post about Living Room. Moving on to today’s subject – who would have thought I’d be so sentimental about a ballet company?
When you move to somewhere new it seems there are two different categories of changes – the ones you expect and the ones that catch you completely by surprise. The first category is quite obvious – food, traditions, mannerisms and so on. Those aren’t terribly exciting, especially if you’ve visited your new country or city before moving there. The latter category however seems to be full of little revelations – both in terms of lovely discoveries in your new home, as well as things you didn’t expect to miss.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am still getting to know my new local ballet company, The Royal Ballet. They are currently performing Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet at The Royal Opera House  a wonderful production, I’m sure. However, I won’t be seeing it this time around. Partly because it has been hopelessly sold out for what seems like forever, but also because there is already a production of Romeo & Juliet in my heart, and it isn’t by Kenneth MacMillan – it is by John Neumeier. The Royal Danish Ballet has been performing Neumeier’s production since 1974 and I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen it and how many splendid Romeos, Juliets, Tybalts and Lady Capulets I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Whenever Prokofiev’s music starts, I simply cannot help but see Neumeier’s brilliantly timeless steps before my inner eye. His Romeo & Juliet is my Romeo & Juliet.   
When I was at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen the week before last, I had the immense privilege of watching the magnificent principal dancer Gudrun Bojesen perform a small excerpt from another John Neumeier masterpiece – Lady of the Camellias. Gudrun Bojesen is one of the finest dancers of her generation and standing there in the wings, watching her bare her soul on the stage, I realized how much I’d missed watching her perform – and how much I am going to agonize over not seeing her full performance in Lady of the Camellias. So here is my recommendation of the day: Go watch Lady of the Camellias. It opens tomorrow night, and if you like drama, unrequited love and terribly sad endings, you can’t go wrong. (Click here to see which days Gudrun will be dancing the title role)      
All in all, dance in London has surprised me in many ways. And while I still need to work on my relationship with MacMillan, I have no doubt that we will become friends eventually. Quite close friends, in fact. He is, after all, considered one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, so there’s got to be something about all the fuss. However, even though I always knew that dance can be an emotional thing for me (No wonder with all those tragic love stories. And don’t even get me started on farewell performances!), I didn’t expect to miss the Royal Danish Ballet that much. But I think it’s safe to say that I am adjusting well, albeit slowly. And to make things a little easier for me, The Royal Ballet has been kind enough to program one of my absolute favorite ballets: August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, one of the classics on the repertory of the Royal Danish Ballet, will be joining me in London in May. And you'll be hearing about it. A lot. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A few words about dance...


As part of this blog I plan to impose upon you my personal opinions on dance-related subjects – this could be a recommendation of an upcoming performance, a review-ish piece about a performance I’ve already seen or just some thoughts on something that is going on in the world of dance. Some of these posts will be about performances where I find myself as a normal, paying member of the audience, while others will find me involved in one way or the other – and therefore completely and utterly biased. I hope you’ll forgive me for the latter.   
For the first installment of this, hopefully, monthly recurring type of post, I’d like to talk to you – rather quickly, because there are only three shows left – about a performance that I simply cannot look upon with unbiased eyes. It is a new performance by the incredibly talented choreographer Tina Tarpgaard. 
Tina gave me a chance with a full-blown, grown-up job as a producer when I was fresh out of university and had only ever been a production assistant. She trusted me with tasks I’d never tried before and never hesitated to take me to meetings and introduce me as her producer. For that, I am eternally thankful.   
Her new performance is called Living Room – and in collaboration with her trusted partners, software designers Jonas Jongejan and Ole Kristensen and composer Pelle Skovmand, she has created nothing less than a room that comes alive. A room that moves, breathes, evolves, and takes in her four dynamic dancers – the gorgeous and captivating Siri Wolthoorn, the tiny and fierce Rumiko Otsuka, the handsome and powerful Jonas Örknér and the tense and intimidating Nelson Rodriguez-Smith – as they challenge some of the relations that we tend to take for granted.
One of the things I admire most about Tina’s choreography is her ability to create mental pictures that stay with you for hours, days, weeks and months after you’ve seen one of her performances. When I left Dansehallerne in Copenhagen after the performance on Saturday night, I carried with me a number of images – Nelson walking around the stage with Rumiko casually thrown over his shoulder. Jonas trying to kick-start his own body, getting a tiny bit further each time before collapsing again. Siri taking over the stage with Nelson, wrapping her body around his and falling on to him with unconditional trust.
Tina’s performances are not easy. They are hardly what you would call traditional, and they certainly don’t fit any cookie-cutter mould for what is aesthetically pleasing. But they showcase some of the most interesting dancers in Denmark in some extremely innovative choreography. They give you priceless moments of surprising beauty that will stay with you for a very long time – paired with some very clever video technology. So if you are in the Copenhagen area, do yourself the favor of swinging by Dansehallerne some time before Saturday – I promise, you won’t regret it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Anticipation and happy places.


Many people say, that the greatest pleasure lies in the anticipation. And these days, as spring has made a lovely and sunny appearance in London, I for one am happily anticipating an upcoming trip to Copenhagen – the lovely city that I called home for 6 years. The official purpose of my trip is work – I have been involved in a performance with the Royal Danish Ballet and will be joining the cast and crew for the final of three shows. I will also be celebrating the birthday of a very dear friend – always a happy occasion, even as the double-digits have gone from 20’s to 30’s. My trip will also take me to Dansehallerne, northern Europe’s largest centre for contemporary dance – located in the old buildings of the Carlsberg Brewery – where I will be seeing two different performances and meeting with former colleagues and new collaborators. However, professionally speaking, I am most eagerly anticipating the part that is actually going to be the most work – making a performance happen together with the lovely artists of the Royal Danish Ballet.
The Royal Danish Ballet is one of my happy places. I attended just about every performance there when I lived in Copenhagen. Many of the dancers I’ve watched on stage are my childhood idols – Nikolaj Hübbe, the current artistic director and former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, is one of them – and I still can’t quite believe that I now know many of these people personally, and have been fortunate enough to work with them. Being backstage and helping make a performance happen in that wonderfully magic theatre, full of red velvet seats and golden carvings, is one of my favorite things in the world. And even though I am now only a bus ride away from a ballet company that is arguably in the top five in the world – The Royal Ballet – I don’t quite have that fond connection with it yet. I haven’t really decided on my favorite dancers and the repertoire is still new, and sometimes strange, to me. However, I am sure we’ll get there, The Royal Ballet and I.
As some of you will know, I am a freelance kind of person. Well, technically I am now a self-employed kind of person, but in this case, there is no difference. The important thing is that I have never been a permanent member of staff anywhere. And even though this way of working has its downsides, I find that for me the ups outweigh the downs. One of the most important positive aspects is that I’ve never had to deal with the internal problems, or even hostilities, that tend to develop when people work alongside each other for years and years. Projects don’t usually last long enough for those kind of issues to come up, and even if you return to a working place for consecutive projects, the fact that you’ve been away, working on something else and with somebody else, makes a world of difference.
The reason I’m telling you this, is that those of you who follow the Danish press might find it strange that I refer to the Royal Danish Ballet as one of my happy places – the company has been given quite a rough ride in the press lately. There seem to be a lot of internal problems – and according to some sources, artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe is one of the main causes of those problems. Whether or not that is true is not the point – because I don’t know that. All I know is that the Royal Danish Ballet is a magic place. It is one of the oldest ballet companies in the world, it has a unique style and a remarkable heritage, handed down directly all the way from the founding father of the company, August Bournonville, who died in 1879. It is without a doubt one of the most important elements of the Danish cultural heritage and basically, it rocks my socks off. And Mr. Hübbe? He is a world-class artist. I feel privileged to work alongside him and all the other amazingly talented people of the Royal Danish Ballet and I look forward to once again finding myself at the Old Stage of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen on Friday night – in my magic happy place. 

PS. If you would like to know more, here is a lovely blog post about life in the Royal Danish Ballet from a dancer's point of view, written by corps de ballet dancer Carling Talcott.