Ballet's answer to the Oscars
``If I may have the envelope please. And the winner is ...'' These words, so familiar at Hollywood's annual Academy Awards ceremony, were spoken by veteran American newscaster Walter Cronkite. The venue was not California, but Copenhagen's Theatre Royal. And it was not film actors being honored, but stars of the ballet world.
Denmark, rich with ballet traditions, provided the setting for the first-ever Oscar-inspired tribute to the Terpsichorean art, aptly called ``The Hans Christian Andersen Ballet Awards.'' Instead of a golden statue of Oscar, the trophies given here were porcelain figurines of the Danish fairy-tale writer clutching a nosegay. Andersen loved the ballet. He was a close friend of August Bournonville, the ``father'' of the Royal Danish Ballet. In his early years, Anderson had wanted to be a dancer himself, but his feet were too big.
The Awards Gala was the glittering climax of a weekend of dance activity in mid-May. In the presence of Queen Margrethe II and an international audience, 12 of the world's greatest dancers gave a dazzling exhibition of balletic fireworks.
During the past season, leading ballet companies nominated candidates for the awards. Final selection was made last November by three judges, Artistic Directors Yuri Grigorovich of the Bolshoi, Frank Andersen of the Royal Danish Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet founder Robert Joffrey, who passed away this March.
``In the category of outstanding female dancer in the 1986/87 season,'' continued Cronkite, ``the first Hans Christian Andersen Award goes to Sylvie Guillem of the Paris Opera Ballet for her extraordinary artistic portrayal of the Odette/Odile role in `Swan Lake.''' The outstanding male dancer award went to Bolshoi superstar Irek Mukhame-dov for his ``superb technique and strongly emotional performance in the ballet `Spartacus.''' Czech choreographer Jiri Kyli-an, director of the Netherlands Dance Theatre, was awarded a figurine for his ``L'Enfant et Sortilege,'' a ``fairy tale among ballets.'' Awards of Merit went to three distinguished artists who have contributed much to the success of ballet over the years - Sir Frederick Ashton, Je-rome Robbins, and Peter Martins.
The weekend began at the Royal Theatre with a double bill program given by the Royal Danish Ballet. First we were treated to a splendid interpretation of Jos'e Limon's ``The Moor's Pavane'' - a quartet of dancers in rich velvets and tulle transforming Shakespeare's play into a vivid ``dialogue'' of dance. Slow, deep Elizabethan movements conveyed the scheming between Iago and Emilia, the purity of Desdemona, and the mental torture of Othello.
The stage then shifted from a dark, murderous mood to a sunlit atmosphere of fun and games as the company sprang into ``The Kermesse at Bruges,'' Bournonville's burlesque ballet of Flemish folk life in the 17th century. Here we saw the Danes' unique style of dancing - compact steps executed with lightness and finely-tuned footwork and nonstop action.
But the 12 superstars' performances were the high point of the weekend. What qualities make them great? While they all possess solid technique, presentation, and musicality, each presents the art in a unique way.
For the Bolshoi's principal ballerina, Natalia Bessmertnova, it is plasticity and serenity. For London Festival Ballet Director Peter Schaufuss, it is dependability and artistry. Spanish ballerina Trinidad Sevillano has a style that flows with grace, making her movements seem natural and easy. The young Chinese dancers, Li Ying and Pang Jia-bin, showed great sensitivity - she with gossamer lightness and he with neat footwork.
The popular Fernando Bujones, who trained in Cuba and New York, always dances with exciting precision and confidence. His partner, Yoko Morishita, complements him, offering dramatic flair to her strong technique. French principal Manuel Legris expresses a fluency in his dancing and real enjoyment, while Argentinian Julio Bocca amazes. Playing the attentive partner, he will suddenly spring to life with some incredible step and catapult around the stage. Cheryl Yeager from American Ballet Theater offers an accurate and polished performance.
And the winners? Sylvie Guillem is an exquisite ballerina whose technical brilliance, balance, and lyricism shine through everything she does. Sheer force and stamina set Irek Mukhame-dov apart. He gives 100 percent and pours emotion into his roles. He's in a class of his own.