** In memory of Henrik Lyding
In continuation of the discussion with my colleague Tommy, I thought the next person to speak with should be Tommy's partner in crime, Henrik. As we sat outside the old Pantomime Theatre, we were treated with a typical Danish weather, with personality shifts causing us to eventually take shelter on the benches just outside the theatre's doors.
Like Tommy, Henrik works as a dramatist and instructor at the Pantomime Theatre and has been there since 2000. Together, the pair work to revitalize the pantomimes and teach the varying dancers the stories and steps. As Tommy had mentioned, Henrik balances out Tommy's wild personality perfectly. Henrik maintains the order and instruction in the rehearsals and although it might seem the two have such opposing styles, they work together in a very harmonious way. Henrik speaks highly of Tommy and his skills in the theatre, regarding him as one of a kind.
Henrik's role in the theatre interests me so much because of how heavily it relies on a tradition. I ask Henrik what it is like to maintain a tradition that dates back longer than a century and how he embraces this challenge in a society where traditions seem to be more and more at threat:
"It's important to know that it is not a museum. The tradition has to be living. This is why we structure the season the way that we do. We spread out the pantomimes through the summer so that we can stimulate both the dancers and the audience," Henrik tells me.
I consider how the pantomimes are performed almost every night during the summer and how easy it could be for what we do to become repetitive. There comes a danger when your job becomes too comfortable. When you're too used to a role after doing it so many times, you lose the novelty and adrenaline that keeps it fresh and one can almost go into an autopilot state of performing. Often the dancers have to be responsible for their own motivation to make each performance something new, but the way things are run at the theatre are useful in helping each dancer have a refreshing change each night. There are alternate casts, which means that each role can be switched between several dancers, and some dancers are also given the challenge of exploring a few roles within a single pantomime.
Henrik tells me a little more about his objective in the theatre:
"It was around 1917 that the person in charge of the pantomimes wanted to cut them down in length. They took out many scenes that would tie the story together so that the show itself would be 30 minutes long. That's why we're left with some confusing moments and gaps. I was employed 17 years ago to bring logic back into the pantomimes. Some things don't make sense and you just have to change them. Some things were changed by the people before me, and sometimes it makes sense to change them back to the way they used to be. "
He tells me about one of the pantomimes, Spåkvinden (The Fortune Teller), in which there is the character of a baker. The baker was an addition made by Tommy and Henrik as when they first reintroduced the pantomime, there was a scene with bread from the bakery, but no baker. Later, after looking through the archives, Henrik discovered that originally there had been a baker, but it had been removed by the instructor before them. This is a prime example of tradition needing to have a fluid life and why it's necessary for Henrik and Tommy to work in this way.
I ask Henrik if he thinks the tradition can ever become extinct:
"I hope not. It's already been alive for so many years. But it's good that now we have videos and records of everything," he says with assurance. "If you look at the stories of the pantomimes, they can last forever. They're timeless. And everyone, no matter what decade you're in, can relate to them.
"You have Kassander, he represents Earth. He is the past, the old days, the old stubborn father.
"Columbine represents Air. This is why she's on pointe and constantly dancing, because she floats. She is the symbol of youth and innocence.
"Harlekin is Fire. He is very much the image of love and also sexuality.
"And Pjerrot is water. He is the present. He is just there, just now. He is compliant and goes in all ways and does what he is told. He also is emotional."
Henrik's analysis of the characters resembling the elements is fascinating to me, and really something I had never realized. But it's a valid point - these characters are archetypal in the art of storytelling and can transcend into any time period.
"As far as creating new things, we have to consider the environment we're in. This is Tivoli Gardens. The things created need to have a heart. They need to be warm. And they need to be transferrable to the audience. That's what works best."
In addition to his work at the Pantomime Theatre, Henrik is a notable theatre critic in Denmark. I've been very curious about the tradition of Bournonville in classical ballet for quite some time now. It is the dance style and choreography of August Bournonville, created in the 19th century but still practiced today. It is the epitome of ballet in Denmark and a major reason why the Royal Danish Ballet has such a highly regarded reputation around the world. Uniquely, the Royal Danish Ballet, and as well the school, educates the dancers in this style, cultivates dancers so that they can perform this tradition and keep it alive. The dancers, as a product, are some of the finest at this style, naturally, because Bournonville was born in Denmark.
Yet, while this traditional style is the pride and joy of Danish culture, it seems to be slowly slipping. With so many progressions in the ballet world, like a high focus on athleticism and a demand for constant new creations, it's easy for the old ones to get left behind. Henrik and I talk a little more about this:
"It's important to take care of the tradition because its the connection that Denmark has to ballet. Bournonville is simple and clean. Small and quick footwork and low arms. You don't need so much, it's not so extravagant. It suits Denmark as the small country it is. Bournonville is sweet. It's love and life. It's theatre. If you're doing Balanchine, you have to trust romantic love. To keep this tradition of Bournonville going, one must have a romantic heart."
With the likes of La Sylphide and Napoli and Flower Festival, which are my personal experiences dancing Bournonville, I see exactly what Henrik means. The innocent heart and passion and sweet love is so evident in these classic ballets. This feeling is what people go to the theatre to experience - something that can touch them.
"So many people are doing big things in a fantastic way, but the more academic ballet will be, the smaller the audience will become. You need to keep the heart of it. It doesn't matter how old a story can be. You're able to feel something regardless of what time period it's presented in."
Henrik and I get quite heated in the discussion. It's no doubt that the tradition is being threatened. If not the right amount of people are working to keep it alive, it stands a slim chance. And Denmark is a small country, undeniably. And Bournonville only remains a small part of the ballet world these days. But it is something so special and tremendously moving. Traditions last so long for a reason. There must be something that is right about them for them to stay alive for centuries.