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Johansson's letters


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#16 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 November 2003 - 10:00 PM

Okay. I'd agree with that... But I still think there's an interesting story here that's been lost to history of how this destitute street kid came to be of personal interest to a king:

His motherís name was Margreta; she was 24 at the time of the birth of her son, and unmarried. That is actually all we know about her. We do not know much about Johanssonís early childhood either, but we can take for granted that it was rather destitute. Stockholm was a very squalid place in those days; one traveler described it Ēas almost Siberian in characterĒ.

Schooling was not made compulsory until 1842, and before that poor children normally did not go to school at all. Small boys could, of course, get some kind of apprentice job, the smaller they were the more sought after they were to become chimney sweep assistants. Small children were made to crawl along flues sweeping them clean. Another weird livelihood open to them was ďSinging for corpses;Ē children sang at funerals for a few coppers. But that small boys would want to become ballet dancers was then probably even more farfetched than it is today. So we have absolutely no idea how the young boy Johansson was to be accepted into the Stockholm Opera ballet school 1 July 1829, shortly after his twelfth birthday.


How did he come to audition? I can't help wondering if someone "found" him somehow and encouraged his tuition. Apparently he was extremely gifted, but that alone doesn't explain how he ended up in the theater. Or does it?
I suppose that the opera ballet school attended to it's pupil's education beyond "pas", and that accounts somewhat for his language skills... presumably the opera encouraged a culture amongst it's denizens where more than one language was bandied about. The operas at that time in Sweden weren't all presented in Swedish were they? (that would surprise me).

#17 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 04:08 AM

I wonder if Sweden had a ward-in-chancery system for children like England's, where children not capable of managing their own affairs were sent to foster homes and relatively safe residential schools. After all, didn't the Bolshoi start in an orphanage?

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 09:18 AM

I don't think this is that unusual. (I don't know Johansson's story, so can't comment on it.) Children were discovered by ballet masters who watched them dance at fairs. Two other Danish stories -- sorry I don't have any Swedish ones, but I think these are typical of all Europe.

As a teenager, Hans Christian Andersen was determined to be on the stage. He supered, he auditioned for opera, drama AND ballet. He was uneducated, a boy from the provinces. He unabashedly wanted fame. The town fathers, realizing that this guy was not going to go away, took responsibility for him. One family adopted him and paid for him to go to a grammar school -- outside of Copenhagen, where he'd have no distractions. He ended up a writer, not an actor or dancer, of course, but his journey started at the Royal Theatre.

As late as 1920, the young Hans Brenaa was a farmer's son, on a farm far away from Copenhagen. One day a neighbor drove by, his daughter in the cart; they stopped and chatted. The daughter was going to Copenhagen to audition at the Royal Theatre's ballet school, why don't you come too? (Hans was one of ten. Why him? Who knows.)

These were free schools open to anyone with talent -- unusual in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Poor children with ambition and talent found their way to them.

#19 Pamela Moberg

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 03:18 PM

Lovely to read all your speculations, especially Amy won't let go - she is going to ferret out the truth! Wonderful, I really enjoy this!!!
However, I have my own private ideas about this, which I am not going to put here as it could be read by anyone - yeah, kinda classified...
Anyway, I do not want to deprive anyone of their sleep thinking about this until dawn, so we can do like this. I can send private mails to those who absolutely want to know what I have figured out. Or rather, what I think might be a logical explanation. Any takers on this offer? :ermm:

#20 Amy Reusch

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 08:45 PM

Pamela, I would love to hear your theories! Unfortunately, I apparently am "not allowed" to e-mail you via the button on this page. You could try e-mailing me here, or at my own address: eye4dance@aol.com.

Alexandra,

Children were discovered by ballet masters who watched them dance at fairs

Could you explain this? I know fairs are different nowadays, but that doesn't help me picture the above without a lot of artistic license. Folk dances? Or would they pull stunts like break dancers used to on the streets of NYC? Or were there actual 'sponsored' dance competitions (like there are pie eating competitions nowadays, or nail hammering competitions, or three-legged races, beauty pagents, etc.)?

#21 Alexandra

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 08:49 PM

There were lilttle groups of dancers, often families, who went all over Europe dancing at fairs. I don't remember whether they were hired by the fair managers or passed the hat -- perhaps it was both. The Price family was discovered by Bournonville this way -- he saw them dance and brought them into the theater's school. They'd dance ballet variations (there were probably hornpipe dancers, that sort of thing too). They might be the children of a ballet dancer from a small company, with basic training.

Marian Hannah Winter's book, "The Pre-Romantic Ballet," has a lot of wonderful detail of fair performers. There were jugglers and acrobats, too; animal acts -- that kind of thing. A kind of traveling vaudeville. There were children's companies, companies of orphans that did Shakespeare, with five-year-olds as Romeo and Juliet. (Yes, they knew the lines.)

#22 Amy Reusch

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 09:02 PM

Makes you wonder about the etymology of the Broadway jargon calling dancers "gypsies", doesn't it?

#23 Alexandra

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 09:13 PM

Good point! Winter spent much of her life going through graveyards in Europe and making genealogies, tracing theater families. She traced the Price family from England, in around 1600, through Europe and to Copenhagen in the late 19th century; there are still Prices at the Royal Theatre there.

The Commedia players were wanderers, too -- I think that some of the 18th and 19th fairground performers were descendants of these players. Why did it stop? I don't know -- because of the advent of the circus? The "gypsies" were institutionalized, joining carnivals and circuses? When you think of how small and closed society in Western Europe was at that time, it's understandable -- it was one of the rare ways to be free, to travel, to live without constraints.

#24 Amy Reusch

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 09:20 PM

Sounds like the "run away and join the circus" idea had a predecessor.... (meaning modern not Roman circuses, of course).

Thanks so much for the Hans Christian Anderson story too... Has anyone choreographed a credible "The Little Mermaid"? (I don't really think the one in the film on HCA counts... even if it had some major players in it)... that ballet wasn't performed outside the film, was it?


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