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Royal Danish Ballet Style

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Ok, I'll give it a try. I love Bournonville. Some may look at it and say it's stiff: arms quiet, lots of movement straight up and down, men in kilts doing odd things. That's the beauty of it. The arms ARE quiet so there isn't all this visible effort getting into a passage. When the arms do move they are in sync with the movement and still quiet. Very fast flowing footwork. And the men! They have these huge leaps, lots of them straight up and down, and the body is so relaxed. Jeppesen commented on Bournonville's style in Makarova's "Ballerina" TV offering. She said that everything looks like there is no effort involved because of the seeming simplicity of the dance, but that in truth it is extremely hard. Come off a jump and land in attitude or 5th position without your body saying "Taa-daa : wonderful stuff.


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Thanks, Giannina! I think you've hit on many of the major points of the style, and that Jeppesen quote gets to the heart of it and illustrates one of my favorite Bournonville quotes: "All effort must be concealed under cover of harmonious calm."

A couple of other things:

The training still emphasizes beaten steps -- a variety of them -- and changes of direction, which, as is often pointed out, the result of the very small stage Bournonville worked with (24 feet wide, according to Patricia McAndrew's notes in her translation of Mit Teatrliv). There is no promenade, no walking around the stage before a big solo; you just start. Often the first step is a jump.

The back leg -- in a jump, in an arabesque -- is slightly bent.

There is an emphasis on epaulement.

Perhaps the one central thing -- and it's a real giveaway, a way to spot the non-Danish trained dancers -- is the plié. It's deep, and especially noticable on landings from jumps; it keeps the movement flowing. Without it, the impetus of the movement stops, as the knees stop. With it, the dancing flows from one step to another.

The style has changed, of course, and this is one style that we can track fairly well. 100 years ago, the line was ROUND. Think vines. Nothing was stretched, everything curled. The Danes thought Fokine's line was harsh and ugly when they first saw his work. This lasted until the early 1950s, when Volkova joined the RDB and stretched the line -- although not as stretched as it was becoming elsewhere -- and put many of the demicaractere solos that were choreographed on demipointe, and some of the corps work, on pointe.

There is something still, despite brainwashing, hundreds of guest teachers, and all manner of persuasive means, inherent in Danish dancers from Bournonville: the women don't like dancing on pointe, and the men don't want to do lifts. [Pointework, I've been told by Danish teachers, ruins the jump, it changes the way the dancer feels the floor and affects the push off for the jump.]

Company attitudes towards the style have been on a pendulum swing throughout at least this century, with regards to musicality (do you dance right on the beat, or through the beat), presentation (grin or don't grin), and the scale of the dancing. Bournonville's style is often referred to as "small" -- and there is a lot of small, qluick footwork -- and the current generation of stagers interprets this as dancing on a very small scale. The Brenaa generation did not; "use all of the space available to you" was the watchword then, and dancers of that generation call what's being danced today "Bournonville in a box."

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Anther feature that Alexandra doesn't mention in her excellent summary is more a matter of breath -- it's inherent in the choreography, where there'll be (say) a line of VERY small steps and then a larger jump, the whole phrase having ups and downs to it like waves. So the dancer's image contracts and expands like a person breathing, which makes the whole really quite artifical process look mysteriously natural, familiar, and appealing.

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Very good point. At one rehearsal I watched, the dancer kept running out of breath halfway through the enchainement -- and, as with most Bournonville enchainements, it was long; I can't swear it was one of the 64 bar ones, but I think it was. She was given one, succinct instruction: "Then breathe." (She took the breath at the apex of a jump and I swear it made it go higher!)

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I'd like to add that much of the Petipa, et al, choreography that I have worked on from Stepanov notation looks like it could be by Bournonville, meaning it is derived from the 19th-century French style. The Danes have kept the old French features much more than the Russians have (Vaganova style changed many features, while retaining others). American neoclassical ballet (Balanchine, etc.) has some features of the old style but, of course, also has many differences (and in other ways than Vaganova is different). When I saw the RDB dance Bournonville in 2000 (those were my first live performances of Bournonville danced by RDB, and I know there were complaints from those knowing much more than I ...), I was constantly reminded of the dances I worked on from Stepanov notation.

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Doug, I wouldn't disagree with you. (I think they got from Denmark to Russia not only through Petipa's French heritage, but through Johansson; and then got back to Denmark, refreshed, through Volkova.) I think the complaints were on style rather than steps; although the style is closer to the 19th century style than elsewhere, it's not as close as it was a short while ago. And those who saw the company in the 1950s, of course, would say that 1980 was far from 1950. There's a fascinating film at the Dance Collection of the Danes in Massine's "Symphonie Fantasque" in 1948, and you can see the style before Volkova. I've never seen a more harmonious company -- they all seem the same size (although they weren't) and are dancing in exactly the same way, like a huge family.

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I love this thread -- so glad to see it back in use........

Another characteristic of Bournonville style is hte importance of the low coupe -- on relevee or in fondu, it is a beautiful line, and Bournonville uses it a LOT. There are lots of pirouettes, for women and men, in sur le coup de pied or coupe, and many combinations will end with a petite jete that ends in that characteristic large diamond shape, with the knees beautifully open -- it will then close in fifth as the legs stretch.

The hobble step -- who else ever uses this? on sees it s LOT in Bournonville, as a prelude (usually) to a big jump. The hobble step stays in this position, like a bourree in coupe, knees beautifully turned-out and open generously....

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i don't know what else to call it --

that's what Sally called it, when she taught Bournonville variations----

it's like a paddle turn that doesn't turn but travels sideways...... the thing is it's a tiny step that stays in fondu, 6-8 quick steps (as if you did bourrees that weren't on pointe but "stayed in plie," with the knees quite bent the whole time) -- if you've seen much Bournonville you'll have seen it -- men do it, women do it -- very commonly it will lead into a grand jete in second position or in attitude

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Paul, I THINK that is the step that Fokine referred to when he wrote about one "old-fashioned" step that he thought really should be retired because it's so ugly. (It's not when they do it, but it can be with someone not trained in the style.)

I hope Victoria sees this thread. I saw her post about pirouettes sur le coup de pied a couple of years ago -- they are still (nominally) a demicaractere step; she was talking about teaching them. They're being phased out in Denmark now, too, though. They were taken out of some variations (sadly, I must admit, by Brenaa, I was told by one of his assistants).

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I would love to read Fokine on hte subject--

Helgi Tomasson has used it in some of his choreography, if I remember right.

I'll concede, it IS a strange-looking step when you first see it, even when a Sylphide does it....

low-coupe is a beautiful thing, but it's on the way out all over -- at NYCB they do coupe well above the ankle.... Sally teaches it still, as do all the teachers at BBT, and it's in general use in hte Bay Area...

entrechats used to be done in coupe -- in fact, that's where the names come from -- entrechat trois is "three coupes" -- and Italian changements, which stay in coupe, is the way changements used to be......

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Ok, yes, I think those are usually referred to as "bournonville pas de bourrés" :(

Not to be too pedantic, but coupé these days usually means a step, not a position. The position is usually called sur le cou de pied, and it can also be devant or derrière. I could go on and on about this :) but it's not the right forum.

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with respect, Hans, my teachers call it coupe (they reserve sur le cou de pied for the wrapped foot, and don't make a distinction re the position in back)....

they also often say plie when they mean fondu.... it's verbal shorthand, and perhaps a West Coast idiom....

"Bournonville pas de bourree" is probably a good term to use in posts like this. I actually respect the usefulness of "hobble step" as a term you could use while working teaching a variations class -- it's not a mouthful, it's vivid, it IS the step you'd have to do if your ankles were confined somehow, and I suspect it is what Americans have called it for a while....

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I believe that the "Bournonville pas de bourrée" is properly named pas de bourrée fleuret. And I agree that coupé is a movement, not a position. A certain generation of dancers has shorthanded "cou de pied" to coupé by elision, and refer to an unwrapped front cou de pied position, or petit retiré as "coupé position" just as they refer to retiré as "passé position".

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I have a suggestion -- another digression, but it is nearly 3 a.m. here!!

How about for this new season, we have a Step of the Week in this forum -- SIMPLE!!!!! don't start with the hard ones!!! -- but aimed so at the end of a year, our discovering balletomanes would have a usable vocabulary of 52 steps that they'll see on stage and read about in newspapers? Volunteers :)

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Mel already put up Step One -- but it won't be another forum, just a series of threads on this one.

Those interested in Bournonville steps and style on this level might want to read his "Etudes Choreographiques" Much of which is in the book by Erik Bruhn and Lillian Moore called "Bournonville and Ballet Technique" which is hard to find now, but you might be in your library.

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I like this "name that tune" sort of game. I have two questions for you all:

1. Is there a specific word for a pirouette taken directly out of a grand plie? (short of... jee thats hard)

2. (please excuse the desperate attempt at description, this is what i love about dance--that you can't ever pin it down on paper or elsewhere!) So... you start with the same take-off as for tour jete/ grand jete en tournon whichever you are calling it and after the first battement front instead of completing the step the normal way, you finish facing the direction you are traveling (with the second leg to the front). as in... chasse, battement R front, fouette completely, land on R foot with L leg front facing same direction as the battement. ACK! They've been doing this one a good deal in class and its in Manon. Any help will be much appreciated.

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