Blixen is an experiment in ballet that celebrates the life of Karen Blixen, probably the most famous Danish fiction writer of the 20th century.
Of course, many of us know a little about the life of Blixen – those who have not visited the Blixen Museum may have seen Out of Africa, the film version of her memoir of the same name.
This production begins with her childhood and proceeds to life in Kenya, before turning to her experiences in New York, literary fame and, finally, her death.
The devil inside us
One of the more charming features of the production is tied in with Blixen’s own conceit that she was “the devil’s friend”.
Like so many other writers, she would claim to have access to special inspiration, and in her case that inspiration was diabolic.
In the ballet, she dances with the devil throughout. He accompanies her on her life’s journey – an ambiguous figure, at once attractive and dangerous.
Mesmerising moves, minimalist motifs
Gregory Dean’s choreography is thoroughly captivating from start to finish: from the wonderful child dancers who bring Blixen’s somewhat constrained (and tragedy-afflicted) childhood to life, to the second dancer playing Blixen towards the end, when Blixen appears in her well-known iconic garb.
Jon Morrel’s stage set complements the dance perfectly. Morrel has opted for a combination of fine recreations of the various settings (Rungstedlund, the coffee farm, and New York) with a minimalistic backdrop where simple but evocative shadow-like images of a bird or a tree, suggestive of the protagonist’s spiritual state, become the focus.
Derivative of Debussy
This is not exactly a full-blown, new ballet. The music is simply an arrangement of the music of Debussy.
It blends motifs from Claire de Lune (accompanying the love duet on stage), with well-known sections of other works by the composer such Rêverie and Images. It is always an absolute treat to hear the French master’s music being given the full orchestral treatment – but of course this also points to the fact that the work is quite derivative.
That said, it is clever to choose the popular music of a composer whose work was celebrated in Blixen’s lifetime by people like her and her contemporaries.