After the Royal Danish Ballet’s success with their discount performances last season, they are now staging a new evening of dazzling dance for little money. For just 150 kroner, you get to see two popular ballets and a classical pas de deux. First, Flemming Flindt’s Enetime (The Lesson), a story ballet about a perfidious ballet teacher and his student. Then, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux by George Balanchine. And finally, Jerome Robbins’ hilarious The Concert in which a pianist desperately tries to perform a Chopin concert while being distracted by his dancing audience.
A mere 150 kroner is the price for all seats in the auditorium – from the stalls to the galleries – so if you book in time you might snatch a couple of seats that would normally set you back more than 1,000 kroner for just 300. The programme is well-chosen to both introduce novices to the ballet and please regular ballet-goers.
The evening’s first piece by choreographer Flemming Flindt is based on a play by the absurdist writer Eugène Ionesco. The Lesson premiered in 1963 and begins with a young ballet student entering a gloomy dance studio. A resolute pianist leads her in before her ballet teacher appears and the lesson starts.
The student is eager at first and seems to intimidate her admiring teacher with the overachieving attitude she brings to the exercises. However, as the lesson takes its course, the teacher’s fascinated adoration turns more and more into a sadistic pleasure as he demands more and more difficult – and increasingly painful – moves from the young dancer. The pianist tries to intervene, but finally the student collapses, and before the curtain falls, we hear the next student ring the studio’s door bell.
What is fascinating about the piece – besides the dynamic between the three people on stage and especially the ballet teacher’s transformation from restrained to sadistic – is that it tells a story in, and also about, dance. While the ‘language’ of The Lesson can be described as close to the genre of dance theatre, where bodies are less erect, legs less elongated and feet less pointed than in classical ballet, a ballet lesson is the content of its tale. The pianist and the ballet teacher often move in a pedestrian way with flexed legs, but what is at stake in The Lesson is the pain and pleasure gained from the sublime movements of ballet.
The Lesson makes us uncannily complicit with the ballet teacher in that we long for movements on stage that seem impossible, clap the loudest at the most spectacular jumps and enjoy the ‘weightless ease’ with which it is all carried out. We do this despite the fact that we’re aware, like the dancers who choose ballet, of the ballerinas’ bloody feet, the serious health issues they often have to deal with, and the short-lived careers that end at 30-something.
When the piece was performed as part of a different programme earlier this season, the Royal Danish Ballet’s artistic director, Nikolaj Hübbe, praised his ageing principal Thomas Lund in the role of the ballet teacher and insisted that the piece had to stay in the repertoire while Lund was still dancing. But Ida Praetorius’ performance as the student was also remarkable. Only in her late teens, Praetorius shows the talent for acting that the role demands. Her stage presence, which has made her shine in smaller parts throughout the season, is thrilling in The Lesson.
Tchaikovsky originally wrote the music for the evening’s second piece – today called the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux – for the third act of Swan Lake. But it was never used in the final score. When George Balanchine, choreographer at the New York City Ballet, got wind that the music was found in the archives of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, he got hold of it and created this virtuoso pas de deux for it in 1960. From Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux you can expect a more traditional display of classical and neoclassical ballet technique. It’s a showcase of athletic leaping, swift footwork and daring fish dives.
Finally, Jerome Robbins’s The Concert is one of the few internationally successful comedic ballets and was a big hit when the Royal Danish Ballet performed it last autumn. It begins with a pianist entering the stage and beginning to play a Chopin concert while the audience fights over chairs, quarrels and cuddles and begins to engage in various dances. Choreographer Robbins suggested that the piece is about the dreamy associations audiences indulge in when listening to a concert; definitely, it is an unusually entertaining and funny piece of ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet did it full justice in their autumn performances.
Gamle Scene, Kongens Nytorv, 1055 Cph K;
Starts: Wed, ends March 24, performances at 20:00 on Wed, March 3, March 6, March 8, March 13, March 15, March 24;
110 mins including intermission; www.kglteater.dk