Atlantis Alumni

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Then And Now

Top: The new Copenhagen Opera House

Middle: The new Royal Theater

Bottom: The "Black Diamond" - The Royal Library

From Dan:

Then and Now: Twenty five years ago, when we first visited Scandinavia, on a trip with my father, we had a cursory view and opinion of Copenhagen. True, we saw a few sights, like one of the castles and the pantomime show at the famed Tivoli Gardens. But we took a train and boat to Hamburg overnight, and dismissed the Danish capitol as the weakest of the Scandinavian cities we’d seen, compared to noble Stockholm, eccentric Oslo or picturesque Bergen. Today, perhaps because we’ve had marvelous weather so far and walked around the town, we give the city high marks for its charm. Jim’s idea of taking a canal barge tour paid off; and besides, Copenhagen has grown enormously. Its smart new buildings, like the ‘Diamond’ (State Library), the Royal Theater and the new Opera, are very impressive, comparing favorably with the Baroque and neo-Classical buildings of yesteryear.

Then and Now: Many years ago, my brother William R. Evans used to accurately praise Norway for being a small European country that had produced a major figure in each of the arts: Edvard Munch in painting, Grieg as a great composer, and Ibsen as one of the ground-breaking playwrights of his time. Though perhaps not such exalted levels, Denmark also has given the world leading figures in the arts: the sculptor Thorvaldsen, and the authors Ludvig Holberg (the so-called ‘Moliere’ of the North, who also lived in the 18th century) as well as the more famous Hans Christian Andersen. And in serious music Denmark produced Carl Nielsen, writer of many symphonies and the national opera, “Maskerade,” based on one of Holberg’s comedies.

Then and Now: Being in Copenhagen makes me think of George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the Twentieth Century, and probably of all time. He had a short career here at the Royal Danish Ballet, back in the 1930s, just as he did in Paris and in other parts of Europe before Lincoln Kirstein lured him away to start Ballet Society in America which became the renowned New York City Ballet.

Two days before we left for this trip I was lucky enough to see a magnificent performance of Balanchine’s first true masterpiece, the sublime “Apollo,” which is set to a great score by Stravinsky. I’d seen it several times before, with such amazing dancers as Ib Andersen (a Dane, BTW), Sean Lavery and even Rudolf Nureyev. This year the City Ballet corps dancer young Chase Finley danced the part, and he shows great promise, as my special friend Carole Paquette, noted. I was delighted to see a Balanchne triple bill with Carole, the most perceptive and knowledgeable ballet lover I know.

Seeing “Apollo” again elucidated some of its important choreographic passages. The ballet is all about creation. For one, there’s a section where Apollo places his head in the hands of the three Muses, to a sigh played by the orchestra. This shows that even a divine creator can collapse, tired. Then there’s also a moment when Apollo holds the hands of all three Muses and seems to lead them onward, like horses. (Critics have called this the ‘troika’ moment after the three-horses Russian sleighs that the ballet’s creator knew.) This represents divine power (i.e., creativity) leased by the god Apollo. Finally, during the amazing pas de deux with the Muse of Dance, Terpsichore, Apollo kneels on the floor while she precariously balances on his back, making a sort of ‘swimming’ motion with her arms. Surely this shows us the fragile nature of creativity in all its winsome nature. If ever there was a perfect masterpiece of dance, “Apollo” (1928) is it.

Then and Now: today we’ll continue our exploration of ‘wonderful Copenhagen’ and hope to report more on this amazing city soon.


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