Thursday, 21 January 2010

New books: A queen’s theatre

If the concept of monarchy, with its ceremonies, traditions and costumes, may be viewed as a performance, Margrethe II is its leading lady. During her 38-year-reign the trappings of the Danish monarchy have become ever more impressive and the taste for ceremonial grandeur, which had to be somewhat downplayed during the reign of her father, is now allowed to blossom freely. One may wonder if the current staging of the Danish monarchy is somehow influenced by Queen Margrethe’s great passion for theatre.
That passion is the subject of Henrik Lyding’s interesting new book Dronningens teater (published by Gyldendal of Copenhagen). The book is written in close cooperation with Queen Margrethe, whose voice is heard through most of the book. This is no disadvantage in itself, but occasionally I felt that it might have been interesting to hear from some of those who have worked with her at the theatre.
The Queen’s love for the theatre began at an early age and was nurtured by her parents, who shared that enthusiasm. The Queen singles out ballet as her preferred form of art and during the last twenty years she has enjoyed a “side career” as an amateur scenographer, starting at her friend Susanne Heering’s ballet school in 1982.
In 1987 she was in charge of the costumes for Danish TV’s “Hyrdinden og skorstensfejeren” and four years later she took on the entire scenography for “Et Folkesagn” at the Royal Theatre. Since then she has been involved in a number of such projects and has since 2001 been in charge of the scenography for four half-hour ballets at the Pantomime Theatre at Copenhagen’s Tivoli.
Lyding looks at the productions one by one and he offers a good insight into how Queen Margrethe works as a scenographer. When seeing how much work she puts into it, one cannot but help wondering how she finds time for it. The Queen shows that she is well aware of her being an amateur and expresses great respect for those who have the technical, professional knowledge she is doing without.
The author does not refrain from quoting even the bad reviews of the Queen’s work and confront her with them. Interestingly it seems the Queen chooses to reject most of the reviewer’s criticism as products of the Law of Jante (“she should not believe herself to be anyone”) in order to point out herself the weaker aspects of her own work.
But I cannot always agree with Queen Margrethe’s reasoning, such as when Lyding brings up the issue of whether her taking on such commissions deprives professional scenographers of employment which they need better than her. This the Queen rejects by saying that she insists on getting paid for all her work (but gives the salary to one of her funds) so that the theatres cannot save money by commissioning her rather than a professional. But of course this does not change the fact that a professional scenographer is passed over when a commission is given to an amateur.
Queen Margrethe makes some interesting reflections on her work as a scenographer seen in relation to her duty as monarch. What she finds particularly attractive is that as an artist she may be compared to other artists, whereby a monarch cannot really be compared to other monarchs, as they reign in different countries and times. What she leaves unsaid is that no other amateur scenographer would have been given the same opportunities as the Queen of Denmark.
Her answer to the question if it might be tempting to become a fulltime artist is also interesting as a clear denial of the recent silly rumours about her imminent abdication: “Maybe some people think that I may just chose to leave my position as Queen, but it is not that simple. And particularly not seen in relation to how I became Queen after the Constitution and the Act of Succession had been changed so that it was me who should succeed my father. If I then chose to step aside it would really be to desert my place. It would really be a great betrayal”.

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