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Just published: New interview with Nikolaj Hübbe, by Gunild Symes


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#1 Gunild

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 09:45 AM

Get the inside story of the Royal Danish Ballet directly from the artistic director, Nikolais Hübbe. Down to earth and openly frank, Hübbe is insightful and refreshingly candid about ballet in Denmark and the challenges the Royal Danish Ballet faces in an increasingly complex society. Interviewed by Gunild Pak Symes, published in the January 2009 issue of Dance For You Magazine in Germany. Find the complete transcript of the one-hour long interview online here:
http://www.dancefory.....words (1).pdf

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 08:25 PM

Thank you for posting this, Gunild (and for doing the interview). Hubbe is a very interesting man, and a very intelligent one. If anyone can figure out a way to make ballet "cool," it is he. He's a dynamic speaker -- I hope he will do preperformance talks -- and I think he'll be able to make the ballet exciting to Copenhagen again. I especially liked what he said at the end, that ballet is both artificial and primal. He's right -- he usually is :off topic:

#3 Farrell Fan

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 09:17 PM

Hubbe is a very interesting man, and a very intelligent one. If anyone can figure out a way to make ballet "cool," it is he.



He might start by singing "Cool" in West S ide Story Suite, as he did at NYCB

#4 atm711

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 04:30 AM

Hubbe is refreshingly candid---I hope he doesn't have too many enemies. My kudos to the fine interviewer.

#5 miliosr

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 05:50 AM

I'll be the contrarian . . .

1) Hubbe had better watch his back because I can hear the sound of long knives sharpening after reading some of the comments he made.

2) When he cited Balanchine, Petipa and Bournonville as the Holy Trinity my immediate thought was, "Really? Then why do you program little to no Bournonville?"

3) If you wrote down all of his ideas for programming on a sheet of paper but didn't mention the company name, I would think I was reading Peter Boal's 2009-10 programming for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

And so, the homogenization of the international ballet repertory continues apace . . .

#6 bart

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 06:57 AM

I have to admit that I go along with miliosr's Point #!. Hubbe's opening comments are remarkably ..... (how to put this nicely???) .... "undiplomatic." It's one thing to express doubts about the Danish "jante" tradition of not standing out, but quite another to tell the people who are paying his salary -- and subsidising his company (and I quote):

I don't care about your social democratic negation of every goddamn thing in the country. [...] It drives me up the wall. I can't stand it.


Oh, dear. :wink:

The bicycle incident he describes may come back to haunt him. Suggestions that Copenhagen is a provincial backwater will not sell well, I think.

Hubbe gives us a revealing bit of information at the beginning of the interview:

The audience doesn't come. We don't sell, not yet. We have these three huge stages. We have these three houses we have to fill. I think ballet and dance has lost its popularity in Denmark .... People don't come. They haven't heard that there is a new man at the helm. They didn't come before, with the other guy before me, and they are not coming now.

[Italics are added.]

Say what you want about Peter Martins' taking over after Balanchine's death, but just about eveyrone admits that he was a diplomat with audiences and a charmer withdonors -- in other words, an excellent schmoozer. Hubbe comes off quite different in this respect.

I wish him luck, but it sounds like his may be a difficult personal journey. Or, to put it differently, "a hard sell."

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 10:17 AM

Hubbe is so smart, and so direct. So refreshing.

I'll never forget seeing him interviewed on the Canadian Ballet promo, in which he frankly answers that he has no problem with thinking that Giselle is REALLY about something real.

He makes no concession to the way the questioner is expecting him to answer; without insulting him, of course.

Same in this interview -- he gets lots of leading questions and simply says "no it's NOT like that." Perhaps it's a Danish gift.



Get the inside story of the Royal Danish Ballet directly from the artistic director, Nikolais Hübbe. Down to earth and openly frank, Hübbe is insightful and refreshingly candid about ballet in Denmark and the challenges the Royal Danish Ballet faces in an increasingly complex society. Interviewed by Gunild Pak Symes, published in the January 2009 issue of Dance For You Magazine in Germany. Find the complete transcript of the one-hour long interview online here:
http://www.dancefory.....words (1).pdf



#8 Alexandra

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 12:36 PM

I'll be the contrarian . . .


2) When he cited Balanchine, Petipa and Bournonville as the Holy Trinity my immediate thought was, "Really? Then why do you program little to no Bournonville?"


Good question! I'm told by Danish friends that he has answered this there. He wants to make new productions, and could not do so this season.

The one new production is "La Sylphide," new about four years ago. I'm guessing that this was in repertory the past two seasons, and so is rested this season because that's the custom, in this house and many others because the repertory has to be varied for subscribers.

#9 Helene

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 05:25 PM

That was a great interview! :wink: Gunild

#10 Gunild

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 03:31 AM

Many, many thanks to everyone for your terrific feedback. I really appreciate all your comments and learned a lot from the points made. Thank you so much.

I decided to keep the interview in a question-answer format because Nikolaj Hübbe speaks for himself and the ballet better than anything I could ever write. He speaks so eloquently about the ballet as an art form and about the inner workings of the theater. The raw format also gives a glimpse into his intelligence, personality and charismatic style. These are the most interesting and most important aspects to understand about an artist, and can often be lost in the rhetoric of the writer.

However, sometimes a bit of the context, or atmosphere, can be lost in reading the black and white transcript of a discussion, especially the humor. Indeed, there was quite a lot of Danish humor in the interview, which can easily be missed without the tone of voice, the facial expressions and the delivery. I never laughed so hard in my life while conducting an interview. Perhaps that's not very professional, but I couldn't help it. Hübbe has a great sense of humor. He is a very funny man and very animated and entertaining when he talks. He offers tremendous insight, honesty and intelligence with a humorous delivery. A true man of the theater.

Maybe our Danish members can explain this better than me, since I am only half Danish, but Danish humor and society is quite unique. It can be rather direct and offensive to some who do not understand it, and still so, even if one does understand it. But the more a Dane likes and respects you, the more you can expect to be the butt of his jokes, and criticism. Perhaps it is a left over from the Viking times, or the inner Viking coming out of each Dane, but this is part of the Danish way. In fact, there is a warning about Danish humor in the introductory handbook for foreigners immigrating to the country, which states: "In Denmark, humour is an important vehicle for communication... This is why the tone in many workplaces may somtimes seem quite direct. People may say things to each other that sound rude and may startle people who are unaccustomed to this form of communication. However, it is often just a way of showing that you like and respect each other, and a little teasing should be accepted among friends." Well, "a little teasing" is a very relative term. What they call "teasing" is pretty heavy-handed here compared to most other places in the world, but if you are prepared for the sting of it, you might just get the underlying humor.

The other important aspect of Danish society that gives context to this interview, which took place in Denmark, is that freedom of speech is a much cherished and practiced ideal of democracy. As an American, I was actually taken aback by how free they really were with their points of view and criticism of just about everything and everyone, especially their own government. Nobody is safe or sheltered from the full brunt of it. It is actually expected, and children are taught from a very early age to express their views at all times. There is no so-called political correctness practiced here, which has its plusses and minuses.

The Royal Danish Theater and Ballet is 100% sponsored by the government... essentially supported by the people of Denmark, who pay upwards of 40% income tax by choice. There was even a referendum about reducing the tax that failed because Danish citizens wanted to keep the high quality and broad number of services, which the goverment administrates very efficiently, for the most part. So, essentially the administration and the members of the theater are government workers, and the theater is an arm of the cultural ministry of the country. Therefore, it can expect to be criticised freely and vigorously by any and all Danes both inside and outside its walls. It is also a very big ship, and like most big ships, is hard to turn. The ballet has lost much of its Danish audience and experienced an unusually high turnover of directors in the past ten years. It probably needs a very big push in order to move into another direction. Hübbe is that very big push, and was hired to do so. Part of his job is to point out the things that are not working and to change them. This is what he is doing in the interview. He knows Danes very well and how to get their attention. Sometimes things do not change inside Denmark, until something is pointed out from the international community.

Danes love their customs, traditions, and way of life. The country has been around for over a thousand years, and sometimes it takes a few decades for things to change, which is a relatively short time, in light of the kingdom's history. But for us American types, it seems an eternity.

The last point to make, is that once a person is hired in Denmark, it is next to impossible to fire him without a substantial loss of money. There is a very strong union system here, and employees are well protected. So, when hiring, Danish administrations are very careful. Indeed, just to go to court, each party has to pay a substantial sum just to show up. So, this forces parties to work things out in negotiation. Hübbe is in a very good place to make waves, and I, for one, hope he does. I could hear in his conversation and his open and forthright attitude that he is fighting the stagnant forces of beaurocracy not only for the restoration of the Royal Danish Ballet as a significant force in the international ballet world, but for the benefit of the average Dane and for Danish children all over the country. Ironically, it is much more difficult to complete this task in this small very old country than it would be in a much larger and newer one like the US.

Thanks again for your feedback. I also welcome your feedback on the interview with principle dancer, Silja Schandorff, which I just posted.

-- Gunild

#11 Hans

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 11:05 AM

He mentions the possibility of an American tour in the future--yes, please! And bring Bournonville. :)

#12 bart

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 12:27 PM

Thank you so much, Gunild, for providing the personal context within which the interview was conducted. I suspect I overreacted to some of Hubbe's statements which appeared -- in printed form -- to be "undiplomatic" without considering the possibility that context, tone of voice, humor, even irony, may have been at play. Thanks especially for the following:

I decided to keep the interview in a question-answer format because Nikolaj Hübbe speaks for himself and the ballet better than anything I could ever write. He speaks so eloquently about the ballet as an art form and about the inner workings of the theater. The raw format also gives a glimpse into his intelligence, personality and charismatic style. These are the most interesting and most important aspects to understand about an artist, and can often be lost in the rhetoric of the writer.

However, sometimes a bit of the context, or atmosphere, can be lost in reading the black and white transcript of a discussion, especially the humor. Indeed, there was quite a lot of Danish humor in the interview, which can easily be missed without the tone of voice, the facial expressions and the delivery. I never laughed so hard in my life while conducting an interview. Perhaps that's not very professional, but I couldn't help it. Hübbe has a great sense of humor. He is a very funny man and very animated and entertaining when he talks. He offers tremendous insight, honesty and intelligence with a humorous delivery. A true man of the theater.

I think it's fair to say that all of us wish Hubbe well and hope a great deal from him. It's wonderful to know that the sense of humor and the intelligence -- so notable in his dancing -- is going to be a part of his administration of the Company.

#13 diane

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 11:52 PM

Thank you for posting the interview, and for the excellent information on Danish humor, etc.
That has made some things much clearer for me (from my childhood, involving my Danish relatives)


-d-


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