Johan Kobborg has been a star of two Royal Ballets - the British company, where he is now a principal, and his home company in Denmark. He's still a dazzling example of Danish style - clean line, buoyant jump and crisp, sparkly footwork. His programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall is a showcase of Danish choreography.
Above all, Danish choreography means Bournonville. The 19th-century choreographer is best known here for the great romantic ballet La Sylphide, but the Danes have plenty more at home. Kobborg has brought one masterpiece and a couple of rarities. They all show his love of folk dances: the tarantella he saw in Naples; a Tyrolean dance made for Rossini's opera William Tell. This is an Alpine pas de deux, right down to the hero's lederhosen. Kobborg's staging is attentive to the earthiness of those folk steps. As Harvey and Bethany Keating turn their flexed feet in and out, they scrunch them juicily along the floor. I can see the charm of this choreography, but I don't quite feel it. The Royal Ballet dancers are still adjusting to Bournonville's demands for precision and lightness.
The galloping Jockey Dance, with Bennet Gartside and Ricardo Cervera, has the same problem. Plenty of bounce in those loping, prancing steps, but with a touch of museum good manners. It's the opposite with Harald Lander's Festpolonaise. Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru are stylish, but the choreography is fireworks by rote.
Kim Brandstrup's Afsked, a duet for Zenaida Yanowsky and Dylan Elmore, was commissioned for this programme. A couple are ready to separate but can't quite let go. She turns her back, then reaches behind for him, clutching at him. He rushes after to catch, support or stop her. Brandstrup can be a timid choreographer, and I hadn't hoped for much. But this bleakly sad duet is the best work I've seen from him.
Flemming Flindt's The Lesson is a nasty cartoon of a ballet. Cojocaru is a ballet student, sweetly pretty with ribbons in her hair. Kobborg, with short jacket and slack jaw, is the obsessive ballet teacher who bullies, ogles and finally strangles her. His repressed spinster pianist (Yanowsky) disapproves, but gets rid of the body in time for the next lesson. It's brilliantly danced by all three.
The evening closed with the Tarantella from Bournonville's Napoli. It's a virtuoso showcase, a series of perfect dances, and its bravura still feels based in real life. As dancers weave and sway across the floor, they applaud one another's footwork, all teasing and warm. Kobborg's British dancers may not have clarity of technique, but the ballet's sunshine comes through. It's a happy ending.Reuse content