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Napoli Ballet and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater
Text by Marina Lukanina, photos by Oleg Chernous

he Stanislavsky and Nemirovich- Danchenko Music Theater celebrated the Day of Theater on March 27, 2009 with an opening night of the ballet Napoli. This is a classical Danish ballet created by August Bournonville, (1805-1879) – a famous Danish choreographer of the Royal Danish Ballet. Bournonville is considered to be the key figure of the golden age of Danish romanticism. He was a dancer and the Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. He traveled to Russia in 1874, visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow and meeting the well-known Marius Petipa. Bournonville was very inspired by this trip. In 1876 he created his last ballet, From Siberia to Moscow.

Napoli was first performed on March 29, 1842 in Denmark. The ballet represents the essence of August Bournonville’s creativity, both in steps and ideas. It also demonstrates the concepts of a Bournonville tradition – something quite diffi cult to define. Napoli has now been danced for 150 years, clocking up over 700 performances. Over time, ballet professionals have re-arranged and re-choreographed it creating new scenic decor and off ering new characterizations.

Napoli was drafted in a stagecoach between Paris and Dunkirk. The first and third acts were inspired by Italian street scenes that Bournonville had witnessed in Italy: “From my window, in the course of an hour, I would witness more tableaux than I could use in ten ballets,” Bournonville wrote in his memoirs.

Mime always played a significant role in Bournonville’s ballets and the choreographer created his own style and form. Bournonville believed that gesture should be simple and natural like the movements that accompany and enhance everyday speech. He wanted the dancer to express inner feelings and thoughts through outer visible movements; feelings such as love, jealousy, devotion, happiness, tears, anger and despair through mime.

Frank Andersen, a famous Danish dancer and choreographer and keeper of the Bournoville tradition, staged the ballet with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko troupe. Three years passed from the initial idea to the opening night. Andersen had a whole crew of choreographers assisting him with the production. One of the crew members was his wife Eva Kloborg, a former ballerina and now a teacher of classical dance training for the Royal Danish Ballet, which is currently under the patronage of Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark.

In Denmark, Napoli is given the same sort of respect as Swan Lake is in Russia. Napoli’s plot is based on a fairy tale love story about a fisherman named Gennaro and his fiancée, Teresina. Teresina drowns during a storm at sea, transforms into a Naiad, and finds herself in the Blue Grotto of the sea spirit Golfo. Gennaro arrives and saves her from the sea spirit. The entire third act is devoted to a joyful celebration of Teresina’s happy return and her wedding with Gennaro.

Napoli is a real dancing extravaganza. Everyone joins in, particularly during the third act. The first act, with the exception of several scenes, is heavily based on pantomime. Sergei Filin, the Stanislavsky Ballet Artistic Director, mentioned during a press conference that it was worth staging this ballet just for the sake of reviving the style of mime and getting it back on the stage. The entire ballet is indeed fi lled with mime; the audience witnesses a real mime show from the very beginning – fishermen, town residents, peasants, monks, children and the main characters are in constant communication with each other on the stage.

Teresina – Olga Sizikh, Golfo – Dmitry Romenko

Filin’s words are echoed by Frank Andersen who said that to understand the pantomime [in the ballet] you have to understand and look at yourself from a distance. It is crucial that when you tell a story, you explain it so thoroughly that everyone sitting in the audience understands everything without a translator or mime guide-book. Andersen insisted that his dancers looked at each other even while dancing. He believed that you have to be an excellent story-teller as well as a dancer to be successful in Bournonville’s ballets. One of his remarks during the press conference was that sometimes it seemed to him that Russian dancers are either dancing or telling a story – that a real synthesis of both is sometimes missing – and that’s what he tried to reach in the Moscow production of Napoli. “Why Napoli?” “That question was also asked during the press conference. Because it’s the most exciting, challenging and difficult ballet for a foreign dancer to dance,” replied Andersen. “It’s has wonderful music, wonderful choreography, and difficult dances.”

The second act, when the action takes place under the sea in the Blue Grotto, is staged according to all the genres of romanticism, specifi cally in the part when Teresina transforms into a Naiad – her dress immediately changes into a Naiad costume. The same transformation is used when she is rescued by her fiancé and becomes human again. During Bournonville’s times, the audience used to take a break and go to a nearby restaurant before the third act. The second act seemed somewhat boring for them in anticipation to a really dynamic and colorful third act. In the current production of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater the second act is staged beautifully, with very colorful costumes and choreography; it is highly unlikely that the Moscow audience would have felt like spending the second act elsewhere as the Copenhagen audience used to do in the 19th century.

The costumes were designed by Dairdre Clancy, a British citizen, who has worked all over the world and received numerous awards. She created over 300 costumes for Napoli. It was a challenge for her to find specific fabrics in Moscow, such as silk, cotton and flax. They were also too expensive to import through customs. For over two months the costumes for Napoli were made in theatrical workshops. The Naiad costumes in the second act were made of transparent chiff on to create an association with seaweed.

The third act, set at the shrine of Monte Virgin near Naples, is often performed by the Royal Danish Ballet as a separate act during gala-concerts. It is considered to be the visiting card of this theater. In the Moscow production, the third act is very picturesque and is filled with marvelous dancing and music. A festive celebratory atmosphere is felt throughout the performance. The act opens with pilgrims assembled around a picture of Madonna, mother of Jesus. Gennaro is blessed by the monk and the rescued Teresina appears; the festival begins, and the act closes with a series of dances: pas de six, solos, duets and trios, a tarantella and the finale.

Four composers created music for the score. Edvard Helsted and Holger Simon Paulli composed the first and third acts. Niels W. Gade created the blue subterranean grotto atmosphere for the second act - including a popular melody of the time: La Melancholie, composed by the violin virtuoso François Henri Prume. As a special trump card, Bournonville asked H.C. Lumbye, later to become the famous composer who conducted the orchestra in Tivoli Park in Copenhagen for its first 30 years, to provide the music for the catchy gallop that concludes the ballet, following on from Paulli’s impressive tarantella.

Do not miss the opportunity to experience the joy and beauty of this ballet on May 28th at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater and watch out for Napoli in the future repertoire of the theater.

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