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Old World ballet versus theater as erotic collage. Danish Ballet reprises two Bournonville classics. SHARP CONTRAST IN AESTHETICS

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The New York audience has always had a special place in its heart for the Royal Danish Ballet (RDB), and this year's one-week engagement at the Metropolitan Opera House hardly got rolling before it was over. The spring ballet events here have stirred up hot debates over taste, style, and classical integrity, with the New York City Ballet's controversial American Music Festival, American Ballet Theater, the Danes, the Paris Opera Ballet, and William Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet all claiming our attention in one dense six-week period. As we ricochet among Balanchinian neoclassicism, Imperial Russian classics, postmodernist formalism, and virtuosic neuroticism, it's a shock to enter the sweet Old World of the Royal Danish Ballet.

In both full-length August Bournonville ballets that formed the repertory this spring, ``Napoli'' (1842) and ``Abdallah'' (1855), the curtain goes up on a bustling marketplace in a harbor town. Only the Danes today can produce a scene like this with such clarity and verisimilitude. Vendors and shoppers bargain over their wares. Children skitter about excitedly, get into mischief, are given perfunctory spankings by their parents. There'll be a stone drinking fountain with real water, a boat that pulls up beside the quay. Boys and girls will flirt, and the heroine's mother will try to break up what she considers a poor match by dragging off the girl, who will dig in her heels and shake her fists and eventually find a way to elude parental custody. And then the characters will go off on theatrically marvelous adventures from which they emerge unscathed, saved by their religious faith, to marry their true hearts and live happily ever after.

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