Royal Danish Ballet: Bournonville, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Le Conservatoire, Bournonville's dancing-school ballet, looks like a painting by Degas. A violinist plays for the dancers, in blue-sashed tulle and black chokers. Yet this ballet class is older than the paintings: the Danish choreographer was evoking his student days in Paris, before Degas was born.

Le Conservatoire, Bournonville's dancing-school ballet, looks like a painting by Degas. A violinist plays for the dancers, in blue-sashed tulle and black chokers. Yet this ballet class is older than the paintings: the Danish choreographer was evoking his student days in Paris, before Degas was born.

2005 is Bournonville year, the bicentenary of the birth of Denmark's greatest choreographer. The Royal Danish Ballet has just staged a festival in Copenhagen. A smaller group has come to Sadler's Wells with a greatest-hits programme.

Bournonville's dances are enchanting, light and quick and buoyant. The dancers must carry their virtuosity lightly. They don't take a run up to a jump, they skim across the stage in a whole series of them. Steps can be demure and flirtatious at once. In the duet from Flower Festival in Genzano, the heroine stops on the music, flutters on, waits to catch her partner's eye. Caroline Cavallo is crisp and assured.

Thomas Lund, who directs these Royal Danish soloists and principals, has tremendous speed and sharp timing. His movement is full as well as quick, with a plumped-up texture to the bouncy jumps. He can lose spontaneity as he dallies with a step, but his dancing has ease and aplomb.

The scene from Le Conservatoire needs more expansive dancing. The soloists look constricted by their exercises, caught between pure dance and characterisation. They are more at home in Bournonville's foreign scenes. The choreographer travelled extensively, and set several ballets abroad. The trio from La Ventana is a Spanish number, with Diana Cuni, Tina Hojlund and Tim Matiakis strutting through their steps. Jockey Dance, a male duet from From Siberia to Moscow, actually illustrates English eccentricity. Morten Eggert and Nicolai Hansen prance and posture, jockeying to outstep each other.

In La Sylphide, Bournon-ville's most famous ballet, a Highlander falls for a sylph. It's the height of 1830s Romanticism, so loses something from being on a bare stage. With no scenery to help, you have to know that the sylph is welcoming the hero to her forest glade. Even so, Silja Schandorff is a lively Sylph, well supported by Mads Blangstrup and solo sylphs. Steps are cleanly cut, groupings delicately clear.

Bournonville's wonderfulNapoli has become the Danish national ballet, and these dancers are proudly at home in it. Their tarantella is one of the most joyful things in ballet.

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