Legs of Fire.
The broken heart of a successful star is the image behind Flemming Flindt's new full-evening Legs of Fire for the Royal Danish Ballet. With the subtitle, "The Red Shoes," taken from Hans Christian Andersen, Flindt hints at a story of artistic obsession--specifically, an obsession with dancing. The ballet could have told the tale of any of several famous artists, but Flindt has specifically chosen to portray the short and dramatic life of Danish ballerina Elna Lassen, one of the most talented dancers in 1920s Europe and a beloved principal of the Royal Danish Ballet until she took her own life at the age of twenty-nine.
Like Flindt's other works, Legs of Fire is obsessed with the dark side of life. Secrets of passion and sexual desire mix with a compulsive need for glamour and public adoration, as in his Caroline Mathilde (1991). But this time Flindt has not managed to transfer the unbearable drama of life to an exciting drama onstage. The characters never really come to life; psychologically, they seem like repetitive sketches. When the drama finally hits its tragic climax, it's difficult for the spectator to feel moved.
Yet the work was a major undertaking. Legs of Fire is the Royal Danish Ballet's major production of the year, presenting almost all the company's dancers onstage. Danish composer Erik Norby has written an interesting new score, mixing discordant sounds of the nineties with unworried rhythms of the twenties, and stage designer Joe Vanek has created a fascinating setting. By means of Vanek's decor, the plot is revealed in a filmlike panorama that leaves behind strong images of despair and loneliness, but even this cannot hide the emptiness of the choreography.
In spite of his ongoing revolt against classical technique, Flindt has not de eloped his methods of parodying ballet. Many steps in Legs of Fire seem like uninspired variations on his earlier work, including his breathtaking debut, The Lesson, of 1963.
Nevertheless, the dancers have done their best to create Flindt's characters. The first cost included Marie-Pierre Flechais as a beautiful, but generally frightened, Ella; a cynical and charming Johan Kobborg as her faithless lover; and a cold and dull Caroline Cavallo as her triumphant rival. As it happened, the performance of the second cost was much more coherent. Young soloist Gitte Lindstrom created a curious, sensual, and very intuitive Ella, with an understandable admiration for Jean-Lucien Massot's macho lover. And Silja Schandorff sparkled with wit as the experienced femme fatale against whom could only lose. A symbolic figure of the ballet, the personification of Legs of Fire, was danced in both casts by Christina Olsson with technical bravura and fierce eyes, exactly as the old story of the fatal shoes dictates.
Far from being a success, Legs of Fire has only made repertory programming more problematical for artistic director Maina Gielgud, who inherited the project from former director Peter Schaufuss. Since coming aboard last year, she has had a hard time convincing observers of the validity of her chosen repertory, which includes older works by Maurice Bejart (in whose company she once performed), and the integration of a number of newly hired dancers has not gone smoothly. Unfortunately for all concerned--on both sides of the footlights--Legs of Fire never ignited.
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|Title Annotation:||Royal Theatre, Copenhagen, Denmark|
|Author:||Christensen, Anne Middleboe|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1998|
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