On Friday, we premiere the new version of Bournonville's classic Et Folkesagn ("A Folk Tale"). With stunning new sets and costumes by Mia Stensgaard, the ballet is visually amazing. The story--to this American, at least--is another matter. Even for a ballet fairy tale, this one is far-fetched; I found I had to tweak very little from the basic summary to convey the funny nature of this Folk Tale. And so, without further ado, a synopsis...
The sophisticated but emotionally fickle (read: moody; possibly cray-cray) Miss Birthe, from the posh Danish estate of Højgården, has ordered lunch to be served in the woods of her property. These woods are very near to a legendary hill that is said to be a hiding place for local trolls. (Because trolls live in Denmark, and their preferred dwellings are the interiors of small dirty mountains.) Birthe's maids are preparing the table for their nightmare of a boss, while some local peasants--who, for the record, clearly haven't bathed in a while, just saying--play around in front of Troll Headquarters. The head housekeeper sees the peasants' frivolity and is not happy about it. She stops their monkeying around, because everyone knows it's all fun and games until someone pisses off the trolls in the hill.
Then Birthe arrives to inspect the peasants and the lunch table setting. She is a whip-wielding charmer, scaring the crap out of the trembling peasants and throwing a veritable temper tantrum after tasting the wine. But there is no time to waste, since her stuffy, wealthy, sticks-in-the-mud group of guests is arriving, so what's been set out for lunch will just have to do. Among the guests are Birthe's fiancee, the handsomely bookish Junker Ove; and the social climbing, flamboyantly smarmy Copenhagen theatre director, one Herr Mogens. The peasants dance for the guests, and Herr Mogens' troupe from Copenhagen provides further balletic entertainment. Birthe loves to dance and is enchanted; ballet is apparently one thing that won't set her spiraling into a maniacal rage. The ladies who lunch and their equally stuffy husbands are disgusted by the peasants' shabby appearance, strange folksy dance moves, and general stench. They take it upon themselves to indulge in some proper, stiff, socially acceptable dancing, at the suggestion of their outrageous hostess. So far, Junker Ove has been pretty cold to his more-than-hormonal fiancee, who in turn, has been openly delighted by Herr Mogens' presence. Birthe dances with Herr Mogens the whole time, shocking her guests with her vulgar behavior: exposing her ankles, swinging atop a horse's saddle with her legs splayed, dancing so scandalously with a man who is definitely not her betrothed. The horror! At dusk, Birthe invites the party back up to her estate; when she offers her hand to Junker Ove, he basically says, "Look, B. You're crazy. I will never be with you." She's not too broken up about it, though, and takes Herr Mogens--who can see the excellent financial benefits of putting up with Birthe--and her guests back to her place to continue the festivities. Junker Ove stays behind, reading in the dark woods. Which was probably difficult.
Anyway, all of a sudden the hill opens. Turns out the stories are true: the sorceress Muri and beautiful mountain girl Hilda lead a motley crew of underworld creatures to the surface. Hilda approaches Junker Ove to offer him a drink from her goblet. Junker Ove is distracted by Hilda's beauty and accidentally pours the goblet's contents to ground...at which point the liquid bursts into flames and Junker Ove realizes the mountain glamazon was trying to off him. He refuses to give back the goblet despite Hilda's pleads; she tries to tell him that she was forced to offer him the fire beverage, but Junker Ove is not having it. Hilda and an infuriated Muri disappear as the hill closes. Dangerous elf girls appear, whirling around the exhausted--and, let's face it, probably totally confused--Junker Ove, trying to retrieve the goblet. They don't get the cup back, but they do manage to drive him into a state of insanity. Mission half-accomplished.
Muri's sons, two trolls named Diderik and Viderik, are fusing pieces of gold jewelry for Hilda--with whom they are both in love, which causes some brotherly tension, natch. Viderik is the sweeter of the two, and so of course Mommie Dearest Muri has decided Hilda must marry her oldest son Diderik, whose personality is more acceptably...trollish. Hilda is just not that into Diderik; and Viderik is totally crushed, so he runs away while Hilda has fallen asleep. In her dreams, a strange vision appears about trolls mixing up two babies. The handsome Junker Ove and the goblet appear also. She wakes up and probably thinks something along the lines of: "Duh! Of course this explains why I'm the only sweet, hot one in this mountain! I was switched with a troll baby at birth!"
Meanwhile, Muri has invited all the trolls to an engagement party for Hilda and Diderik. The hill's most distinguished creatures attend the noisy, boozy event: the light men; vampire girls; the dead animals; the headless giant (with his detached head in tow); and many others. Hilda performs for this...peculiar audience, and once they have worked themselves into a fine drunken frenzy, she and a dismayed Viderik escape the trolls together.
Back in Denmark, the harvest work is done and now the farmers are seeing a preacher who can apparently cure the sick. Hilda and Viderik come upon this crowd, and Hilda--who seems to dance whenever she doesn't know what else to do--performs for them. The farmers are in awe of her dance, and Herr Mogens, who has been watching from afar, is taken aback by her beauty. She might be even hotter than that sack of crazy, Birthe, plus maybe she's not crazy! But the general atmosphere of enthusiastic male drooling dies down when Junker Ove (literally) stumbles in, still suffering the hallucinating effects of the elf babes. He is still--somewhat impressively, two acts later!--holding that damn goblet, but finally drops it. Hilda recognizes him as the studmuffin from her dream. She picks up the goblet while slowly bringing him back to sanity and life through her dancing. And her hotness. Hilda gives Junker Ove his sanity back, and he recognizes her as the mountain babe. They are flaunting their joy of being reunited, somewhat insensitively, since poor old Viderik watches some handsome dude steal his lady love. Herr Mogens, meanwhile, is not happy about this unwelcome intrusion on his plans to inherit Højgården via an advantageous marriage. He organizes blue Gendarmes to hunt down Junker Ove, on grounds of insanity, and the intruding company (aka, Hilda).
In the meantime, Birthe is madder than ever. Her maids refuse to obey her. (Personally, I don't blame them. The woman is a nightmare who abuses her handbell. She would drive anyone completely bonkers.) Her already-fiery temper is reaching a (surely record-breaking) boiling point, and in a rather unbecoming fit of hysteria she faints. Just after Birthe's dramatic collapse, Hilda arrives, holding the goblet. She is recognized by the housekeepers and maids as the true heiress to Højgården. Birthe wakes from her tantrum-induced stupor to find she has been living a lie her whole life: she is, in fact, the real troll daughter of Muri, and is expelled from the estate.
In an attempt to find help from Herr Mogens and his peers, an enraged Birthe approaches them...only to realize they are all bewitched by grains thrown upon them by Viderik, who is apparently drowning his romantic sorrows in carbohydrate-centric pranks. Birthe forgets her rage when she lays eyes on the amusing scene--oh, she is just on an emotional rollercoaster at this point--and fairly immediately falls foul with Viderik, who has recognized her as his sister. Muri and the rest of the troll family turn up to welcome their long-lost family member. But Birthe has no intentions of following them to ther hill; she's sort of used to a decidedly cushier lifestyle by now, so I get this. Muri has an idea. A wheelbarrow full of treasures persuades the greedy Herr Mogens to take "troll for gold." Birthe, who is all about drama and theatre, doesn't care that her flesh and blood and fur totally just dumped her, because now she can finally have her dreams come true: she will be the newest star in Herr Mogens' Copenhagen theatre troupe.
Back at the estate, people are delighted. They've gathered for a summer wedding, between Junker Ove and Hilda. Even the rich people have relaxed a bit: gone are the neck-high lace aprons and outrageous hats for the ladies; and the men have even dared to show some spunk and (gasp!) roll up their shirtsleeves. The dancers from Copenhagen provide entertainment, including the recent addition of Birthe, while Junker Ove and Hilda waltz into summer light of wedding. And the trolls remain at their native soil--after all, according to the official synopsis, "one could not do without them...could we"?
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