dance Caroline Mathilde,

Covent Garden Bland or brilliant? Sophie Constanti and Stephen Johnson compare notes

You can't blame the Royal Danish Ballet for thinking that Flemming Flindt's Caroline Mathilde might be of special interest to a British audience. First, there's its subject matter: the brief and tragic marriage of the 15-year-old English princess (whose name lends the work its title) to Denmark's madcap King Christian VII, two years her senior. Then there's the fact that Flindt's collaborator on this ballet, created in 1991, was the English composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

And yet, despite its Anglo-Danish aspect, Caroline Mathilde doesn't come across as a particularly relevant or sensible choice of ballet for the company's first visit since 1968. Selecting a slice of royal history that offers more problems than possibilities for choreographic interpretation is Flindt's first mistake. And although he manages to establish the central roles of Christian VII, Caroline Mathilde and her lover, Struensee (the King's physician), there are too many intermediate and subsidiary characters in the frame. The result is a confusing, tiring production in which excessive designs (20 set changes, 250 costumes) cannot compensate for the absence of inventive choreography.

Lloyd Riggins is the young King given to frequent fits of derangement, during which he strikes up various "act mad" poses, linked by old-hat, modern ballet steps. Riggins milks these solos for what they're worth (not very much), and successfully conveys the King's cruelty towards Caroline Mathilde. But much of the time he lapses into bouts of silliness rather than insanity. As Caroline Mathilde, Rose Gad depicts the Queen's growing assertiveness as she begins a passionate affair with Struensee (Nikolaj Hubbe). But here, too, Flindt's choreography is ludicrously heavy-handed.

Long before the end, the ballet seems more a clash than a meeting of huge egos. Maxwell Davies's score gurgles and thumps along; Jens-Jacob Worsaae's multiple stage-sets move into place with much banging and wobbling; and Flindt adds his own undistinguished contribution. There's some good unison work from the corps, and the male principals (especially Hubbe) demonstrate the ease and lightness of jump which one associates with the Bournonville style. But none of this is enough to stop the evening from being one big yawn. SC

The young English princess Caroline Mathilde is married off to the mad epileptic King Christian VII of Denmark. Not surprisingly she takes a lover. The 18th-century Danish equivalent of the tabloids stir up resentment, and the military intervene, executing the lover and banishing the queen. It's a moving story, and a wonderful excuse for elaborate costumes and opulent scenery. The Royal Danish Ballet don't over-egg the pudding, though, and this, combined with high technical standards and imaginative choreography, makes it a joy to watch.

With this comes one of Peter Maxwell Davies's most uncomplicated and directly appealing scores; the mix of warm tonality and sour dissonance is familiar from the recent Proms commission The Beltane Fire, but the flavour is quite different, the range of colour and expression wider. Not all the music sounds as if it would be gripping in the concert hall, but the general level of imagination and invention in this two-hour score is remarkably high.

One of the most encouraging surprises was the musicality of Flindt's choreography - dance rhythms that matched or interestingly counterpointed the rhythms of the score, action that complemented the musical expression. Only in the first crowd scene was there any sense of friction: folksy dances on the stage, Mad Max parodies from the pit. I was a little disappointed at the end by the way that the music expressively drew back after giving the heart-strings a good tweak, but the action matched the music's simplicity. Who knows, in time it may turn out to be one of Caroline Mathilde's most effective touches. We should certainly be given the chance to find out - though matching the high musical standards of this performance won't be easy. SJ

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living