May 27, 2011

First days - From the perspective of a dancer

''Here's a little gift: Dancer in RDBallet Constantine Baecher has agreed to share his first impressions on being in on tour:

By Constantine Baecher:
Ladies and Gentlemen, we understand that there is a dance team on board with us on today’s flight to the United States.’ Our stewardess announces over the loud speaker as we board the plane.

She continues, ‘If you need any help placing your carry on luggage in the over head compartment the dancers will be happy to assist you.’

Momentary pause…

Excuse me, I’ve just been informed that it is not a dance team we have on board today…but in fact the Royal Danish Ballet!’

Cheers erupt in the rows around me as excited dancers settle into their seats for the 18 hour journey from Copenhagen to Los Angeles that marks the beginning of the company’s month-long US tour. It’s an enormous undertaking: 23 performances, 9 ballets, in 4 cities across the country.

For me this tour is especially important because it is also a homecoming. I left America 10 years ago to pursue my ballet career in Europe, and now I’m back to show America a little bit of what I’ve been up to all this time. But for my colleagues LA is as exotic as other recent tour destinations, Beijing, Budapest, Cairo… even a trip to the local pharmacy proves fascinating. Our physiotherapist snaps pictures of the unending aisles of painkillers and anti-inflammatories one would need a prescription to get back in Copenhagen.

I’m fascinated by the two-story high Richard Serra sculpture right outside our hotel entrance. Mr. Serra has been a hero of mine ever since seeing a retrospective of his work at MoMA a few years back. Danes most likely know him for the large ironwork he made especially for the Louisiana museum’s sculpture garden.

Upon arriving in the theater we find that the technical crew has already spent days here preparing so rehearsals can run as smoothly as possible. The dancers have only a few hours to review all five ballets for tonight’s big premiere!

I’m especially nervous because I’ve agreed to give an introduction an hour before curtain time to the audience. I meet up with the theater’s event coordinator a little before hand for a sound check. ‘So how many people come to these lectures?’ I ask, thinking certainly no more than 50 diehard ballet fans would be interested in such a specialized subject. ‘Oh, you know, three to four hundred,’ says the woman without batting eyebrow. THREE TO FOUR HUNDRED! I’m already nervous having to speak in front of an audience—after all, dance is a silent art form. My techniques of dealing with stage fright haven’t had to cover talking.

Luckily the introduction is a success. The American audience is captivated immediately when they learn that the Royal Danish Ballet stretches back in an unbroken line into the 1700’s, making it older then America itself. They are also enchanted with stories of famed Danish dancer Flemming Ryberg’s farewell last week in Copenhagen. A man who began at 6 years old in the Royal Danish Ballet School and stayed with the company into his 70’s--they simply can’t believe their ears. ‘Now that’s a real tradition,’ I hear one woman say.

For an untraditional program, the premiere is a success. The audience, most of whom probably expected a traditional Bournonville story ballet, stands, cheers, and applauds the evening’s unexpected lineup. A lady in the front row is so excited she makes two giant thumbs up and pumps them in the air to show her appreciation. Mid-way through the last ballet a baritone voice calls out ‘THAT’S MY MAN!’ during Thomas Lund’s final solo.

Others leave in bewilderment; this collection of five shorter works is far from the romantic era full-length Royal Danish Ballet is known for. They’re surprised by the shirtless men rolling in red dirt to rock band Apocalyptica’s orchestration of Metallica melodies in the final piece. It’s a strong statement on the opening night of the tour not to bring out the standard Napoli, or Sylphide. 

For me, it was a premiere with a different message, a premiere that says ‘We’re back, and there’s more to us than you’ve seen before!

1 comment:

  1. I attended Wednesday night's performance as well as Saturday's matinee of 'Napoli'. Both performances were spectacular! I'm so glad I read of RDB's appearance in OC. It was well worth the drive from West Hollywood to see this troupe. It's too bad their tour hits only four US cities. We are very fortunate to have them in Southern California. Best wishes to all the dancers! Thom Cook/West Hollywood