A Charming Lover?s Meeting
By Erik Aschengreen
The pas de deux from The Flower Festival in Genzano is one of Bournonvilles most attractive and accomplished compositions. Light, lively and elegant. Infectiously full of joie de vivre and with the harmonious beauty that was Bournonvilles ultimate objective. All of Bournonville's pas de deux are based on more or less the same step figures, but in each of them he succeeds in characterising his couple. Whereas the pas de deux from The Kermesse in Bruges is an encounter between two very young people, the couple in The Flower Festival in Genzano Rosa and Paolo are in their twenties. They are a little more daring in their approach to one another; they play and tantalize, but are throughout tempered by the sweetness of falling in love. In the ballet in which this pas de deux was placed, Rosa and Paolo are a couple of fresh and dynamic young people.
The pas de deux from The Flower Festival in Genzano is certainly the most widely travelled Bournonville composition in the world.
As was the case with other nineteenth century Danish artists, Bournonville loved Italy. Hans Christian Andersen wrote novels that were set in Italy, the Danish painters placed Italian street scenes on their canvases, and Bournonville also let himself be inspired by the land of sun and beautiful people. He created The Flower Festival in Genzano in 1858 on the basis of the general enthusiasm for Italy and on the basis of a little story about robbers written by Alexandre Dumas in his Impressions de Voyage. The ballet was danced in its entirety until 1929, but the pas de deux lived on the Royal Danish Ballet School until Harald Lander once again brought it to the stage in 1949. Since then it has been danced in Copenhagen and everywhere else in the world where it belongs to the repertoire in which international ballets stars happily shine. It is one of Bournonvilles most perfect compositions, a charming lovers meeting between two young people where the steps express both their scintillating joy and their teasing playfulness with each other.
At the end of the prelude, a young couple enter from upstage on the womens side (right side seen from the audience). They are holding hands and they look around as if inspecting the landscape. They stop in the middle of the stage and the young man invites the girl to dance. Unlike the traditional structure of a classical pas de deux, which begins directly with the adagio, we here have a short preamble introducing the couple: a few cabriole-leaps diagonally across the stage demonstrate her graceful lightness, as does a series of swift turns on pointe resolved in a soft landing in an attitude. The young man, to the musical repetition of the theme, responds with some characteristic Bournonville-steps: forward spring with open arms, embracing the audience as it were grand jet en avant small circles of the leg ronds de jambe before concluding with a spirited series of pirouettes. This is followed by the adagio, in which the two dance together. He invites her again to dance and they perform a promenade he stands in attitude whilst she is leading him round, up on her nimble toes. She is a little shy, whereas he is chivalrous and holds her waist tenderly as she slowly stretches her body in an arabesque inclining downwards towards the floor. They walk forward, hand in hand. He kneels and she executes an elevated attitude, supporting herself on his hand. She turns this position a half figure and leans backwards, still supported by his hands. They run from one another, play and come together again. They spar mischievously with their eyes as they cross the stage. She goes on pointe, supporting herself on his shoulders as she stands in attitude. He looks at her and she teasingly averts her eyes. They repeat the game until the adagio concludes with a graceful position she in an arabesque whilst he holds her hands from behind.
This is followed by the first male solo. The young man demonstrates his vigour and suppleness in a series of elegant step combinations. He soars in attitude-jumps, turning in the air, his feet shifting rapidly in nimble sauts de basque, before concluding with a series of pirouettes. The young woman begins the first female solo in hovering flight across the stage with a series of bris steps repeated four times in varying directions. This step - the legs are thrown forward, beating together in the air was one of Bournonvilles favourite steps as it gave a sensation of weightless hovering, from which his sylphs also derived benefit. Downstage, the young woman now executes elegant ronds de jambe, one hand holding out her dress, and she then plays the coquette with steps pas de chat in which her feet seem to disappear under her dress. She stands on pointe in an arabesque and suddenly turns her body rapidly forward and back, a subtle elegance of balance. She concludes with a series of fast little steps pas de bourre before circling the stage in expansive leaps.
The young man is now ready for the second male solo, in which he impresses with three double-spins in the air, soaring cabriole-leaps and searing pirouettes, until the young woman in the second female solo counters with big grand-jet leaps towards the audience. This solo is characterised by the lightness of nimble feet and the play with balance and shift of weight as she goes up on pointe on one foot and down again in a lively tempo (relev). The solo ends with a series of hops en arabesque, which are resolved in a spiral-pirouette.
The two come together in the coda. Their shyness has vanished. He takes her by the waist and whirls her round, or they take wing in parallel across the stage in grand-jet leaps until he finally supports her in an attitude. The tempo, joy and celebration thus conclude in a graceful, harmonious unit.
Erik Aschengreen: Professor (University of Copenhagen), Doctor of Philosophy (Dr. phil.), Dance critic