BECKET -- They make it look so easy, those Danes. For those accustomed to the more flamboyant, stylized virtuosity of the Russian ballet tradition, the easy grace of the Royal Danish Ballet can be a revelation.
The company, represented by a small touring troupe at Jacob's Pillow this week, has a distinctive tradition forged by the great August Bournonville more than 150 years ago that is anchored in a liquid, unforced buoyancy and naturalness. Instead of muscular attacks and sharp finishes, dancers exhibit a near-seamless fluidity. Split leaps and spinning turns seem to spring fully formed into the air. The lyrical flow of the arms and the soft carriage of the torso and head belie the vigorous work going on in the legs, feet often beating with the quickness and delicacy of a hummingbird's wings before landing in buttery soft pliés that immediately transition to the next phrase.
In a special program offered in this country only at Jacob's Pillow, the Dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet showcased repertoire ranging from Bournonville masterpieces to a world premiere by company dancer Louise Midjord .
In Bournonville's ballet world, all is sweetness and light -- no sturm und drang, no heaving melodrama. His only tragic ballet is "La Sylphide," in which the beautiful sylphide lures a young man away from his family. But you'd never know it from the lighthearted divertissement led by soloists Diana Cuni and Tim Matiakis . There was no sign of doom or danger as the two flirted with coy romantic couplings.
Principal dancer Thomas Lund , partnering Kizzy Howard , was spectacular in Bournonville's most famous piece, the pas de deux from "The Flower Festival in Genzano." He sailed effortlessly through virtuosic splits and turns in the air. Brandishing riding crops with humorous élan, Mads Eriksen and Sebastian Kloborg embodied two feisty competitors in Bournonville's romp "Jockey Dance." Principal dancer Gudrun Bojesen was disconcertingly flat and unfocused in Lander's "Festival Polonaise," actually losing balance at one point and prompting speculation that she might have injured herself.
Excerpts from the third act of Bournonville's "Napoli," the company's calling card, gave some of the younger corps members opportunities for solo divertissements. Though musical timing and ensemble work were not always precise in the group dances, they were articulate and spirited in individual moments, the style looking bred in the bone.
Disappointingly, the program was to have included a US premiere by cutting-edge choreographer Kim Brandstrup , one of the new generation of Danish dancemakers. But the piece was removed at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.
Still, the replacement was dynamite. "Triplex," a trio by former RDB dancer Tim Rushton, gives the dancers a chance to stretch without compromising what they do best. The charismatic Cuni was partnered by Kloborg and Alexander Staeger in a piece that contrasts the elegant long lines of traditional ballet vocabulary with playful, quirky moves that curve and coil, leaning off center.
The evening's world premiere, Midjord's "My Knees are Cold," was much less successful. An eclectic mishmash of styles, from the jerk to jazz to gymnastic tumbles, it never really developed into a cohesive whole.