The Spanish Dance in the Mirror
By Alexander Meinertz
To a critical eye La Ventana is one of August Bournonville?s most modern? ballets in the sense that the story line is rather slight and gives way to an unusually large amount of classical dancing. Apart from the opening pas d?action, where the senorita dances first with her mirrored image - the original clou of the ballet - followed by a castanet dance, there?s a divertissement in the square with a pas de trois, virtuoso variations and an exciting sequidilla? for the principals and the corps de ballet. The structure of this 20-minute one act piece is tight, and it is a ballet that truly moves.
Bournonville had had a great success, when he choreographed Pas des Trois Cousines for the three cousins Juliette, Sophie and Amalie Price at Copenhagen?s Casino Theatre in 1849. In 1854 he was commissioned to create yet another piece of entertainment for the popular theatre and came up with the idea of a mirror dance for Juliette and Sophie Price.
The idea of self-images has haunted the arts from Narcissus to Oscar Wilde?s Dorian Gray. The Commedia dell?arte often used mirror dances, and Vincenzo Galeotti had capitalized on the same trick in his ballet, The Mountain Peasants? Children and the Mirror, in 1802. (Later Børge Ralov would use the same theme in his dramatic ballet, The Widow In The Mirror (1934), just as Harald Lander introduced the mirror as an image of transcendence in Etudes in 1948.)
But to Bournonville the prop has less complex connotations and is used rather more simply. In My Theatre Life, he notes his reservations of Spanish dancing in general. He was not blind to the beauty and particularity of the Spanish character, however, and was inspired by the quintessentially romantic scene from many a Spanish novel, where the young man declares his love for his chosen one by singing in front of her window.
In La Ventana, a señorita dances into her room. Thinking of the handsome señor, she met earlier on the Alameda, she waves her fan and "on seeing herself in the mirror" dances playfully with her own image. Perhaps indulging herself in a study of becoming poses and feminine qualities? On hearing the sounds of the señor playing a serenade from outside her window, she responds rhythmically by dancing with her castanettes. She looks out her window and throws him her bow as a token.
Bournonville found the scene so successful, that he restaged it at the Royal Theatre in 1856, and added an extra scene where the señor dances with his friends in the village square and is later joined by the señorita. "The Sequidilla of La Ventana was not entirely my own composition", notes Bournonville in My Theatre Life, "but an imitation after Paul Taglioni".
La Ventana was the last ballet Bournonville restaged for the new Royal Theatre in 1874. Its most recent staging was by Hans Brenaa for the Royal Theatre?s Bournonville Festival in 1979, and it was last performed in its entirety in 1984. At the II Bournonville Festival in 1992 only the mirror dance was seen at the closing gala, and students of the Royal Danish Ballet School performed also the mirror dance at a matinee for the Bournonville week in 2000.