COSTA MESA — The Royal Danish Ballet has offered Orange County many delights during its all too brief season at the Performing Arts Center.
The ancient Bournonville repertory has been a source of renewed revelation. The performances, for the most part, have been equally notable for elegant style and muted virtuosity.
Particularly impressive after the obfuscation and confusion perpetuated by the crumbling Kirov, the Danes have provided their audiences with generous, accurate background information on all their noble efforts. Under the circumstances, it was a bit surprising to read this bold-faced claim beneath the credits for "Konservatoriet" (a.k.a. "The Conservatory") on Thursday:
How could that be? The Copenhagen company, which first undertook this delicious demonstration of Bournonville techniques and manners in 1849, has been exporting "Konservatoriet" to America in various incarnations for 27 years. The Joffrey Ballet, expertly guided by Hans Brenaa, ventured its own version in 1969.
Perhaps, we thought, the Danes have mounted a new production of the old favorite. If that is true, the novelty is distinctly relative, and something of a technicality.
The simple studio set designed by Ove Chr. (we assume that stands for Christian) Pedersen dates back to 1965. It may have been repainted. Lars Juhl's conventional costumes have been in use since 1986. The staging-scheme, attributed to Henning Kronstam and Eva Kloborg as of last December, follows all the predictable patterns--thank goodness.
At best, we might call this production a spruced-up revival. At least it has been spruced up nicely.
Someday, we are told, the company may attempt to reconstruct the whole vaudeville-ballet, "Marriage by Advertisement," from which "Konservatoriet" has been excerpted. Denmark last saw it in 1934. In the meantime, we can continue to savor the textbook divertissement as a beguiling period piece.
The familiarity of the scene is comforting. The Parisian studio is still inhabited at stage right by a busy fiddler, and at stage left by an authoritative ballet master (a probable shade of Vestris) who wields a teaching cane. He moves center, of course, to make some mock-corrections and to demonstrate occasional feats of bravura daring.
The non-action is monopolized by a parade of students, children as well as quasi-adults. They practice their plies, perfect their \o7 epaulement\f7 , and polish the precision of their beats as well as the pretended ease of their \o7 jetes\f7 .
Ironically, some the performers on this occasion actually looked as if they needed the class work. The tutued darlings of the corps were a little shaky, especially at the outset. The earnest kiddies seemed a bit nervous. Still, Rose Gad and Christina Olsson defended incipient-ballerina honor with elan, and Nikolaj Hubbe--the most exciting discovery of the season--flew through the air with the greatest of ease as their romantically brooding taskmaster.
Next on the eclectic agenda was a delicate perennial, the pas de deux from "The Flower Festival in Genzano." It has been knowingly staged by the artistic director of the company, Frank Andersen, who made a specialty of this showpiece in his own days as a danseur. Young Henriette Muus turned out to be a model of dainty charm in the intricate soubrette duties. Johan Kobborg exulted in spectacular velocity and technical finesse as her understandably grinning partner.
After intermission, the company mustered a repetition of the previous night's triumph, "La Sylphide," this time with a totally different cast. Some of the erstwhile poetry turned to prose, and a few dramatic specifics gave way to generalities. Still, the dancing Danes proved that there is more than one effective way to capture an elusive sprite.
Lis Jeppesen was all sweetness, crispness and light in the title role, less ethereal, perhaps, than her predecessor but more of an erotic force and ultimately more poignant. Lloyd Riggins pursued her deftly as an eager, feverishly boyish, slightly self-conscious James. Petrusjka Broholm introduced an exceptionally appealing, suitably mercurial Effie opposite the agreeably agile, understated Gurn of Morten Munksdorf.
The most striking shift of values involved Kirsten Simone, who took over the witching duties of Madge from the unforgettable Sorella Englund. Once a Juliet of surpassing innocence and a Carmen of overwhelming sexuality, Simone has become an extraordinarily authoritative teacher and character dancer. This sort of career progression represents an exalted Danish tradition.
Madge has been in her repertory only since 1989 (Englund first undertook the challenge a decade earlier). For all her individuality and attention to illuminating detail, Simone still plays on the surface of the role.