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The Arts
11.19.08

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Phaedra

CAPED CRUSADER: Rudy Candia dances the lead in Ballet San Jose's 'The Toreador.'

Bournonville Reborn

Vivi and Flemming Flindt help Ballet San Jose remake 19th-century Danish dance classic 'The Toreador'

By Marianne Messina


IN LETTERS to ballet students, 19th-century Danish ballet master August Bournonville often emphasized beauty as ballet's ultimate goal—"adopt the beautiful not the difficult," he advised. The man who helmed the Royal Danish Ballet for almost a half-century (retiring in 1877) returned from his formative studies at the Paris Opera cautioning against "affectation and exaggeration."

Choreographer Vivi Flindt, a former dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, grew up with the Bournonville creed. "He hated what he called 'the circus show-off,' the big lead," she says. "He hated the amount of turns just for the amount of turns. He loved the precision of the turns, the musicality. ..." Bournonville aficionados always mention musicality—"the phrasing," Flindt elaborates, "the way he conducts the steps into the music." Bournonville's style can also be recognized by signature port de bras and épaulement (ways of carrying the arms and leaning the shoulders), and also "the softness, the extremely quick footwork."

Bournonville's enchaînements (combinations) were compiled and used for generations to train the Royal Danish Ballet's incoming students. But somewhere in the 1930s, the company began to lose complete Bournonville ballets. The attrition once led Hans Brenner, Vivi Flindt's early mentor, to lament the death of an elder Danish dancer by remarking (to British choreographer Richard Alston), "That's three Bournonville ballets gone."

For weeks, Vivi Flindt has been inculcating Ballet San Jose with Bournonville techniques for the company's upcoming presentation of The Toreador, a Bournonville ballet reconstructed by Flindt's former husband, Danish choreographer Flemming Flindt. "We only had so many ballets entirely left in our repertoire," Vivi Flindt recalls.

It was 1978, and Flemming Flindt was artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet. "He wanted to see if it was possible to save some of those ballets which had not been performed since the early 1930s," Vivi recalls. (The ballet's only modern performance was in 1990 at the hands of Ballet San Jose.) "So then he called in all the dancers from that time, old dancers."

Assembled in a room with one pianist, the venerable dancers "would remember sort of a little step here and there, but not enough to reconstruct a whole ballet." Flemming Flindt took the few remembered phrases and extrapolated from his Bournonville training to expand the piece. Purists may quibble over the dance's verisimilitude to Bournonville's original, but no one can take away The Toreador's true Bournonville style. As Vivi Flindt puts it, "You're getting as close as you can to the horse's mouth."

Inspired by a Spanish dance duo, Bournonville produced The Toreador (1840), a comedy full of Spanish "character" dances (fandango, jota, jaleo), about the dashing toreador Alonso (Maykel Solas/Rudy Candia in Ballet San Jose's production) and Maria (Karen Gabay/Maria Jacobs), the innkeeper's daughter who loves him. Toreador fulfills Bournonville's strong tradition of mime with two additional male leads, a pair of English tourists comically competing for the attentions of the same woman. "They are very much in the absolute tradition of the Bournonville mime," says Flindt, "the moving, the gestures, doing a characterization without overdoing it."

At rehearsals, she focused heavily on perfecting the mime. "There is a very delicate, natural way to the mime in the Bournonville which is not for everybody to understand right away," she explains. "It took a little time." From the very first rehearsal, the mime dancers wore their costume props. "That is very important to have, things like the right shoes—you know, with a little heel on—and the right hat to do the gestures." For Flindt, the mime's task is similar to that of an actor: to "move into another person." The mime scenes are now among Flindt's favorite parts in the upcoming show. "Some of the character roles are darlings ... they are wonderful!"

Vivi Flindt has especially enjoyed trying to bring out the "Spanish temperament." The lovers' pas de deux is tempered by a fiery mutual jealousy, not to mention the bullfighter himself: "He has to build up his Spanish rage and sort of Spanish charm and absolutely no fear—that has been fun, to work with him."


 THE TOREADOR plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 1:30pm at the Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $25–$85. (408.288.2800)


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