Johan Kobborg, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

A feast of feats
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The Independent Culture

A lot of noise is made these days about improved access to the Royal Opera House, and how it's starting to pull in new audiences. But what about access for artists? The steady exodus of Royal Ballet principals in recent years is proof enough of their frustration: too few appearances in too limited a repertoire in a career that is horribly short. The clever ones do something about it.

Johan Kobborg has booked the QEH for two nights. He's already a dab hand at programming, but just as crucially he knows how to rally his friends. Out of Denmark, a showcase of Danish choreography from the 1870s to the present, could have focused solely on his own brilliant technique, or at least used colleagues he easily outshone. Instead, Kobborg's big night out offered a feast of virtuosity in which the tastiest morsels were liberally shared.

Which isn't to say the evening was without problems. The QEH is a pig of a stage for classical dance. And the contrast of Alina Cojocaru's grand white tutu and exalted classical manner against a scuffed floor and a backcloth that looked as if someone had dropped their chips on it was bizarre. And perhaps Kobborg should have brought along his own CD player. The sound reproduction of the music to Harald Lander's 1942 Festpolonaise was so excruciating that some people left after five minutes.

But the practical shortcomings paled in the face of such a fascinating package, winningly delivered. Bennet Gartside and Ric Cervera gave a sparky account of Bournonville's 1876 Jockey Dance, whipping their steeds along the banks of the Thames. Bethany Keating and Martin Harvey were properly charming in Bournonville's Tyrolean duet while subtly playing Harvey's tiddly Austrian shorts for laughs. And the full company of 10 gave the breathless Tarantella from Bournonville's Napoli a bounce to put Tigger to shame.

New work came in the shape of Afsked ("Leave-taking"), a beautifully nuanced duet by Kim Brandstrup about a tortured end-of-the-affair. Zenaida Yanowsky with her timeless, icon-like face knows supremely how to make her body do the work for her. Saturnine newcomer Dylan Elmore did enough to make us want to see much more of him.

But the dramatic highlight was Flemming Flindt's The Lesson (1963) with Kobborg as the psychopath ballet teacher, Cojocaru his young victim and Zanowksy the hatchet-faced pianist who tidies away the corpses. This ballet has a starry past, but all three made the roles their own: Cojocaru brimming with the irritating juvenile chirpiness of an Olga Korbut, Zanowsky a tragedy of warped and twisted womanhood, and Kobborg transformed into a clammy, Smike-like gibbering wreck whose complexes one could unravel for hours.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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