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Bournonville & Erik Bruhn


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 April 2001 - 11:42 PM

Of course, I'm hoping Alexandra fills in!

Today I was at a talk by Nicolaj Hubbe and I asked about something I had heard decades ago about Bournonville technique. I had heard that they had a different class for each day of the week and that the class focussed on a certain skill... for instance, on Mondays the class would always work on turns, Tuesdays petite allegro, etc. At first Nicolaj said that no, each class got around to everything, but then as I restated the question said that it had been the case that when Bournonville died his students got together and wrote down his classes and that there was one class for each day of the week. I wasn't sure what he meant by this, so he elaborated that every Monday you got the exact same class from month to month, year to year, etc. and that there were some old character dancers who could practically show up blindfolded and do the whole thing, but that the practise had ended sometime around perhaps the 1950s.

So, my question is, was Erik Bruhn the product of this old system?

[This message has been edited by Amy Reusch (edited April 02, 2001).]

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 12:32 AM

I can do this one!!!

Yes, Bruhn was the product of that old system. However, he had extensive post-Bournonville training, not only with Vera Volkova, but, a bit earlier, in London and New York. The feeling of dancers of that era that I've talked to was that the Schools were fine, but that the teachers weren't especially imaginative. I think that's what Hans Beck had foreseen. He wanted to have a system that would work during lean times, when there weren't inspired teachers. It's better to have a great teacher to inspire you, but in his absence, rote will do.

The classes weren't a structured syllabus, but they were put together with different things in mind -- and they weren't Bournonville's classes, but Beck's, done in the very late 19th century. Each enchainement has dancers' names attached to it -- either someone who did the step very well, or someone who hated it. The dancers used to know this, and it was how they kept their history. Tuesday's class was for building strength, I'm told. I don't know the others offhand.

Bits of Bournonville's ballets that would have otherwise been lost were saved this way. The dancing school act of Konservatoriet, *his* saving of his teacher, Auguste Vestris's, class, and, I believe, the Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux.

They weren't danced Monday on Monday, etc., at least not in the 1940s. They would do Monday for three or four days until the teacher thought they'd made some progress, and then move on to Tuesday. On a child's birthday, he could name the class to be danced.

The thing that would strike today's teachers about the system that's crazy, but that worked, was that until the 1930s, everybody, children and adults (from six to 70) were in class together. The youngest in the back rows. You copied the kid in front of you, and he or she had to turn around and help you. If you survived, you made it to the front row. This went out sometime in the 30s (I don't know when exactly) but the system was transferred to the children's classes. When Bruhn was a child, there were only two, boys and girls mixed: 6-10 and 11-15. When Volkova came in the 1950s, a third class was added. Then there were aspirant (literally, apprentice) classes for 16 and 17 year olds, and a mime class where they learned the entire Bournonville repertory, role by role. THAT is how that repertory lasted so long.

This system produced a world-class male dancer every two or three years for decades, despite lack of great teaching. I'm not sure I can get them in order, but, roughly, Frank Schaufuss (Peter's father), Stanley Williams, Fredbjorn Bjornsson, Paul Gnatt, Erik Bruhn, Anker Orskov (died young), Henning Kronstam, Flemming Flindt, Niels Kehlet. All of them from Copenhagen! So they were doing something right.

Glad you went to the seminar. Please post more about it, Amy.

#3 Amy Reusch

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 01:00 AM

Originally posted by alexandra:
I can do this one!!!
Bits of Bournonville's ballets that would have otherwise been lost were saved this way.  The dancing school act of Konservatoriet, *his* saving of his teacher, Auguste Vestris's, class, and, I believe,


Oh, thank you for answering another question I didn't quite ask right of Nicolaj Hubbe: where was Bournonville from. I understand that his mother was Swedish and his father French but that he was born in Denmark. I'm embarrassed not remember exactly and don't have my encyclopedia handy, but Vestris was a product of the Paris Opera, no?


They weren't danced Monday on Monday, etc., at least not in the 1940s.  They would do Monday for three or four days until the teacher thought they'd made some progress, and then move on to Tuesday.  



Doesn't seem like it would be good for sharpening up one's skill at picking up combinations quickly, does it?


If you survived, you made it to the front row.



We had something like within each class (not all ages) when I was growing up at NJ Ballet. The teacher would assign positions with only the advanced students in front and sometimes you moved up and sometimes you moved back according to how well they thought you were doing amongst your peers. One teacher even took it to the barre, with only the advanced students at the front of the line... one bad mistake and you were sent "off to Siberia" at the rear... she sat her stool in front of the first 6 and watched like a hawk.


Glad you went to the seminar.  Please post more about it, Amy.


I did, in your "teachers" forum, but it doesn't really deal with Bournonville, only the master class where he didn't say what was from Bournonville and what was from Balanchine.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 01:57 AM

Yes, Auguste Vestris was Paris Opera. Bournonville's father was a pupil of Noverre, and sent his son to Paris at 15 to study; again a few years later.

As for "sharpening skills for picking up combinations quickly," that wasn't the purpose of the school. It was to learn how to do the steps correctly. Children started performing at 13 or 14 -- not just children's parts but, if they were ready, corps parts in the regular repertory -- and they learned other skills there. The most advanced of the children were put in the adult class a year or two early, as well.

Something to think about: the entire cast of the original "Etude" was trained through those Bournonville schools.

#5 Michael

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 10:52 AM

Amy - Where and what was the occasion for Nikolaj Hubbe's presentation about this?

#6 Amy Reusch

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 03:36 PM

Originally posted by Michael1:
Amy - Where and what was the occasion for Nikolaj Hubbe's presentation about this?


It was a Master Class offered by Dance Connecticut (formerly Hartford Ballet). I don't know whether it was a fundraiser or not. Now that they no longer support a company, (and seem to have some sort of identity confusion as a result) besides presenting modern dance companies they hosted two master classes. The first was with Leslie Brown which I could not attend. I don't know what the reason is for holding master classes, other than working on the quality of the school... I guess it's sort of like having guest artists dance with your ballet company? Where I grew up, NJ Ballet, they had a master class with Edward Villela every year. They usually are wonderful classes because the teacher usually is committed to getting real info out, isn't bored yet with the students & routine of that particular school, and is probably getting a pretty penny for their teaching.

One thing I forgot to mention about Nicolaj Hubbe's talk, something I particularly enjoyed... was that he said they had a policy of keeping the school very cold while the children's class was going on, warming it up only after they were off to their academic lessons, when the company classes began... apparently there is a theory that children tend to become lethargic in warm spaces and that this would energize them!

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 03:46 PM

The Danes have wonderful theories of what's suitable for children. Did he tell you the story of Hans Brenaa sending him down to the canteen to get him "a glass of milk from the black cow" (The Danes very strongest beer, beer you can stir with a spoon, it's so thick) when he was a very small boy?

#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 03 April 2001 - 12:17 AM

Originally posted by alexandra:
The Danes have wonderful theories of what's suitable for children.  Did he tell you the story of Hans Brenaa sending him down to the canteen to get him "a glass of milk from the black cow" (The Danes very strongest beer, beer you can stir with a spoon, it's so thick) when he was a very small boy?  


I was rather hoping for some stories of mischief behind the scenes, but perhaps, given that the primary audience was young kids with several of their parents and school director present, he didn't think it was a good idea to go on much about that?


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