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Auguste Bournonville at Rome: notes from a meeting
(by Francesca Falcone (short version))
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Francesca Falcone, the author of the brief note below, is one of Italy’s leading scholars.
She is associated with the Accademia Nazionale di Danza at Rome, where she teaches theory, and is a council member for Italy of the European Association of Dance Historians. Miss Falcone has also contributed to many specialist publications, focussing, in particular, on the choreography of Auguste Bournonville and Nicola Guerra.
In December 2002, under the aegis of Daniele Cipriani, as part of a series held at Rome entitled “Academic techniques in the world today”, the scholar Francesca Falcone organised a seminar on Bournonville, in collaboration with of Denmark’s Royal Theatre, attended by Anne-Marie Vessel Schlueter, Head of the Royal Theatre’s School, the pianist Julian Thurber, and the solo dancers Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund.
The Rome seminar began on Friday December 13th, and ended on Sunday December 15th 2002; it was open to dancers, professors, students, critics, art historians, accompanists and balletomanes generally. Three of the presentations (The Royal Theatre’s School, Bournonville’s Mime, and Bournonville, Then and Now) were given by Miss Falcone, who teaches Dance Theory at the Accademia Nazionale di Danza at Rome. Miss Falcone’s final presentation opened a Round Table on December 15th, attended by all four Danish guests.
Three classes were given in Bournonville’s style and technique, two by Miss Vessel Schlueter, and one by Thomas Lund, the first designed for intermediate-level students at the National Academy of Dance, the others for the seminar’s participants. Then, led by Miss Vessel, alongside Miss Bojesen and Messrs Lund and Thurber (the latter presented how, his view, a pianist should accompany these classes), matters of pedagogy and style were discussed. The School’s present circumstances, as well initiatives launched by Miss Vessel to bring in more students so as to take advantage of greater opportunities for the Danish ballet as of 2004, when the New Opera House is scheduled to open, were also raised.
Mime passages from Acts I and II of The Sylphide - the Window Scene, and the Sylphide’s death – as well as Hilda’s confrontation with Diderik, Viderik, Muri and the trolls, and the contrast between Hilda and Birthe clash in A Folk Tale, were analysed in great detail.
Following a showing of the Elfeld films (1902-1906), a Round Table on reconstruction was held on the Sunday. Julian Thurber played passages from the final scenes of “The Lay of Thry (Thrymskviden)”. The solo dancers then demonstrated the pas de deux from the Flower Festival at Genzano, and the Jockey Dance that appears in From Siberia to Moscow.
Auguste Bournonville at Rome : Notes from a meeting
How much Bournonville loved Italy, especially Rome and its surroundings, is readily apparent both from his many ballets based upon things he had actually seen - as noted in his diaries – and from the Roman scenes in Danish painters of the Golden Age that inspired ballets such as his “Festival at Albano” (1839).
In recent years, and ever-more frequently, Rome has seized the occasion to pay homage to this choreographer through performances of his works in our theatres (this past June, Miss Bojesen and Mr. Lund appeared at the Opera here in an impeccable production of The Sylphide, put up by Niels Kehlet), as well as through seminars like that organised in 1997 at the Accademia Nazionale di Danza to celebrate the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The purpose behind this past December’s seminar was to deepen issues relating to the Danish choreographer, by setting up brief, but intense, encounters of a historical and didactic nature. Amongst the aspects dealt with were Bournonville’s style and his methodological choices; the great value of certain forms of instruction such as mime; issues such as keeping up the style by continuing to stage certain ballets, and reconstructing yet others thanks to those scholars who have brought life back to carefully-annotated manuscripts in the Library of the Royal Theatre.
We saw before us two generations, in an exchange certain to produce fresh developments: Miss Vessel, who leads the School, and there taught both Miss Bojesen and Mr. Lund, traced back, with a wealth of recollections, what Bournonville represented in the past, while Miss Bojesen and Mr. Lund, amongst the most respected heirs to the Bournonville tradiction, stand for its future.
The lessons in technique, given by Miss Vessel and Mr. Lund, and then demonstrated by the latter alongside Miss Bojesen, focused upon the rather simpler enchaînements –complex though they seemed to our eyes – from Bournonville’s Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday schools, that being the form in which Hans Beck chose to set down the master’s exercises, according to the Days of the Week. Mr. Lund, in extraordinary form, and with text-book placement, performed, inter alia, the so-called “dark step”, which owes its name to the blind terror it has struck into generations of dancers, on account of its intricate and very extensive batterie. Miss Bojesen demonstrated the step known as “The Rose”, and then led the group of participants.
Of most particular interest was the mime section. Passages from the Sylphide (the Window Scene, and the Sylph’s death), and from A Folk Tale (Hilda and the Trolls) were first explained in words, and then demonstrated, arousing, in the first instance, keen emotion amongst the public, and the second, amused curiosity. It is no everyday occurrence on stage for a dancer to identify so strongly with his personage that the concept reach the public as though by enchantment, but that is precisely what took place here.
The final event was a Round Table, entitled “Bournonville – a journey through recollection and re-creation”, being a report on the current state of the tradition, in the light both of earlier, and more recent, reconstructions. In respect of other well-known versions, such as Peter Schaufuss’ Sylphide (well known here in Italy), the Danish guests views were most instructive, revealing as they did, considerable critical acumen.
The pianist Julian Thurber was a little less optimistic as to the future, with regard to attempts such as The Legend of Thrym (1868), which Elsa Marianne Von Rosen had reconstructed for the Royal Theatre in 1990. In point of fact, it was Mr. Thurber who made a rehearsal-version of the score, so as to “propose, to the people doing the staging, a musical framework that they might find inspiring”, given what he described as a “dreadfully old-fashioned story”. That being said, as Mr. Thurber’s own playing evoked, from the J.P. Hartmann score, the minutest details of characterisation, one did get the impression that the staging had been very worthwhile nevertheless.
Extremely rare film by Peter Elfelt, dating back to 1902-1906 was also shewn, where one can observe the lightning-swift artistry of people like Hans Beck. The finale to the seminar was an exhilarating Jockey Dance, from one of Bournonville’s last pieces, From Siberia to Moscow (1876), a crack of the whip that shot us straight back to the present, with Mr. Lund and Miss Bojesen in riding boots, jockeys in a wild steeple-chase.
The whirlwind vivacity of the chase did not suffice to put away the image of serene calm painted by the two artists earlier, in the Flower Festival at Genzano, as they danced it at the seminar’s opening.