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Danish male ballet dancers

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I remember having read somewhere that Danish male ballet dancers' careers tend to last more than those of their counterparts on other sides of the world I am most curious about this, and wonder if it is because of the school and the type of training involved, or what.

Also would like to know if the same happens to female dancers.

I would welcome comments of you learned people at Ballet talk!!! :).



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I think that their careers once lasted longer simply because they had roles for middle-aged dancers in the repertory, but that's changed now. The retirement age was 50 for a long time, then 46, I believe. But that changed in 1992. They have to retire at 40 now. It's the same for women as men.

Perhaps, long ago, the training, and the repertory, prevented injuries -- Bournonville technique is a balanced style, permitting no extremes. But they dance everything now. Aside from the fact that they have a few Bournonville ballets every year, they're like every other company in the world now -- many dancers not trained in the school, a repertory from all over the place, etc.

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There was always the hope that it could go back -- there have been periods of extreme dancing and then a return to more harmonious dancing for centuries. And maybe it can some day, but the past 10, 15 years, even though they've done Bournonville classes, everything else in the repertory today (not just there, but just about everywhere) is almost anti-Bournonville. BIG jumps, lots of turns, kick, lunge -- no small footwork, the things that his style emphasizes, even the very steps, aren't used in choreography today.

As an aside, odd that in our enlightened, modern times, there's MORE of everything except steps. It seems that the vocabulary has been reduced to a fraction of its possibilities.

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I do not much about the goings of the ballet world in USA, or Europe, except what I have read or seen on video, but I believe that something very good must be in Bournonville's training as many Danish male dancers have danced for Balanchine's company (NYCB)!!!!!


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I think it's the speed -- Balanchine once said he liked a "speedy leg" and Danish training certainly breeds speed :D There is one new Danish dancer, Ask LaCour, who's said to be quite talented, but until him, there hadn't been a Danish-trained recruit to NYCB since Hubbe joined in '92. The others -- Martins, Luders, Schaufuss, later Ib Andersen -- were trained in the '60s and '70s, and that was a different world.

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In the light of Anna Lærkesen, Kirsten Simone, Mette Hønningen, and Silja Schandorff, I don't know if that's a true proposition. But whatever has been true about Danish training in the past may not be holding fast in the present, as the interest of the company has been straying from Bournonville to an "internationalist" point of view. What's going on with the company may not be going on with the school, but I certainly have my doubts.

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Oh, Mel, your doubts are right on :) I think, as with every other system, it's not the system, but the teachers. The Danish school had great dancers because it had great teachers -- Harald Lander, Vera Volkova, Stanley Williams. I found a copy of Volkova's schedule of teachers during the 1960s, and there were only four: Volkova, Willilams, Erik Bruhn and Henning Kronstam. Hans Brenaa was also a fine teacher.

The difference between the women and the men has as much to do with repertory -- it's not a ballerina repertory. There weren't ballets in the rep that developed pointe technique and the aesthetic is more of an ensemble aesthetic. The men of the Danish school stood out because they were never pushed to the side and had lots to dance, and so compared to much of the rest of the world, they seemed more developed.

To show you how "through the looking-glass" their system was, I offer you this. "Boys have to start at 8 or 9, because their bodies aren't as flexible as girls. Girls can start as late as 18." That's the exact opposite of how we look at it.

As for Danish ballerinas, some say they haven't had one since Lucille Grahn - -not a really truly international ballerina. Or, if you look at it through Danish eyes, they have about a dozen a generation -- star performers, fine actresses, women who catch your eye in a role like the Countess in Sleeping Beauty -- a role you might not notice in a production by another company.

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The angle i'm going for in my dissertation is something like:

How has Denmark produced (over the years) such technically brilliant male dancers (who are internationally recognised), considering the size and population of the country?

This is with particular reference to dancers such as:

Johan Kobborg (Royal Ballet, London)

Ib Anderson (NYCB)

Peter Martins (NYCB- dancer then dir.)

Nikolaj Hubbe (NYCB)

Adan Luders (NYCB)

Helgi Tomasson (San Fran)

Erik Bruhn

Flemming Flint (dancer then choregrapher)

Henning Kronstam (although he never left he was still well known esp. in USA- but you know alot more about that than I do.

:D )

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You could find out a lot about your original question, Silvy, and your thesis question, too, Danciegirlmaria, by looking at the half-hour long videotape of "50 Bournonville Enchainements," as demonstrated by Johann Kobborg and Rose Gad.

They represent the technique (though there are other combinations, such as a set of entrechats called "the dark steps" which seem to a regular part of weekly class, that I've seen on another RDB video concentrating on the rehearsal-to-stage process, which are not among those on the "50-enchainements" tape)

The technique looks designed to protect the dancer's body -- there is a lot of attention to educating the standing leg, reminding it to fondu correctly (though the whole body is used, notably the head). The more you look at these dances, the more you see -- I'm sure you will see things that I haven't, the combinations are so detailed, and a dancer will see things the public does not. The sort of thing I'm thinking of is, for example, in one combination a saut de basque leads directly into detournee, in another it leads into grand jete ( i.e., the first one must come straight down, the second falling forward); again, an entrechat-quatre is preparation for a single pirouette in coupe, which should probably be thought of as a sissonne-simple-releve that turns, for the emphasis (slight as it is) is on the finish in coupe-back. It's, as Gertrude Stein said of Paris, "peaceful and exciting." (Rose Gad actually BEATS a grand jete -- so does Kobborg -- without making it look like a stunt.) If you can do these combinations, you will have developed a quiet center.

The combinations are all of them charming dances. Over and over, you see beautifully modulated use of small and large steps to create marvelous patterns that direct the eye in surprising but not startling patterns across the dancer's body.

It is strangely charming to see that Kobborg has trouble landing a double tour without having to bounce out of some position into a fifth, since everything else he does he does SO perfectly -- and no mater what, both of the m are unfailingly musical

The combinations were notated by Hans Beck in 1893, and have been selected by Vivi Flindt and Knut Arne Jurgensen; there's a book that goes with them which I don't have (yet). Bot hare available from Dance Horizons Video/ Princeton Book Company, POBox 57, Pennington, NJ 08534.

I should add, the dancers are among the loveliest creatures you will ever see in your life.

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Maria, I'm sorry I missed your last post above. (I just noticed this thread when I came to read Paul's.)

I must say I think it would be hard to get at that question now. Those generations are gone and the situation has changed -- the country, the company, the school. It's much more international now. Kobborg was actually trained outside of the RDB. He was in the school for a very brief time. He worked intensely with Peter Schaufuss when Schaufuss was director.

In the 1940s and 50s there was a long list of world-class Danish dancers. Some of them didn't get out at all, but still had a world-class technique. And they were born about two years apart. From memory, in age order, they were: Frank Schaufuss, Poul Gnatt, Stanley Williams, Erik Bruhn, Fredbjorn Bjornsson, Henning Kronstam, Flemming Flindt, Niels Kehlet, Anker Orskov (died in his 20s). They were all produced under the old system -- only two classes in the school (you'd posted elsewhere that you'd read my biography of Kronstam and nearly all I know about the schooling system is in those early chapters).

Of these people, only Flindt and Kehlet are still alive.

The next generation was trained by Vera Volkova and Stanley Williams, as well as Hans Brenaa and Henning Kronstam: Flemming Ryberg, Jorn Madsen, Peter Martins, Adam Luders, Peter Schaufuss, Aage Poulsen. Then there's Arne Villumsen, Ib Andersen, and then there's a big gap until Alexander Kolpin (now retired; injuries), Nikolaj Hubbe. There are still good dancers -- very good dancers -- but not at quite the same rate as in the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Tomasson was trained by Danish teachers, but not at the RDB.)

I don't know how much material there is in English OR Danish that would make up a dissertation -- I share your question :) It was one of the impetuses behind my own research. I think a great deal of it was that there were always great male dancers around -- good role models. And there were good men's parts to dance.

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Thanks for your ideas!

I have already seen parts of bournonville's 50 enchainements, and it is as you say, Paul, very useful!! And Kobborg shows NO signs of having trouble with double tours any more!! I'm a devoute Kobborg fan........... :wub:

Does anyone have any ideas for thesis topics (at degree level) which involve anything to do with danish ballet- I'd be greatul for any and all ideas....... as the summer is coming to an end and im running dry of ideas myself :shrug: i've got to get started on it ASAP!

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Maria, you said dissertation and then you said thesis -- what level? (It makes a difference, at least in American terms, because if it's for a college term paper, there are dozens of topics that you could do. I probably could think of some for a thesis (what we'd do for a Masters degree; it doesn't have to be as exhaustive as a doctoral dissertation). If it's for a long, thorough paper, then you could do something on the Danish male dancer. If it's for a book-length, in-depth scholarly analysis (which is what I thought you meant) that might be more difficult. Why don't you email me or PM me?

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Hans, I'm 99% certain that's not so. At the time, the Danish ballet school was closed to foreigners, and he's an Icelander. (I also interviewed Tomasson for the Kronstam biography and we discussed his training, so I guess I'm 99.99 percent sure :wub: ) Both of his teachers in Iceland, however, were Danes trained at the RDB, and so he has Danish training.

Tomasson danced at the Pantomime Theater in Copenhagen as a young man, but never with the RDB (again, because of the prohibition against foreigners, not because of any lack of talent).

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Ok, that makes sense, because I could have sworn I read in an interview with him that he went to Denmark at 15--it's in the book "State of the Arts" which is about California & has interviews with various artists in the state. I'll have to go read it again. Apparently, if he did to go Denmark at that age, it was not to train at the RDB!

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Yes, I believe he did go to Denmark at that age and I don't know where he took classes. The choreographer Birger Bartholin had a studio and was a very respected teacher during that time; a lot of people taught there as guests (including Danilova!) and many dancers would take classes there. Or perhaps he started at the Pantomime Theater at that age. I've always wanted to learn more about his teachers in Iceland -- they did a very good job! He's as much a Danish dancer as if he had been trained there, to my eyes.

I should add that the Danish ballet did take non-Danish dancers beginning in the mid-1960s, when Flemming Flindt took over, but it was made clear to the foreigners that they would never become solodancers.

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I think I should add that we still have some of the finest male dancers available in Copehagen Kenneth Greve, Mads Blangstrup and Thomas Lund can hold their own against anybody. Kenneth Greve is the classical Danseur Noble, Mads Blangstrup is the romantic poetic dancer and Thomas Lund the brilliant demi caracter dancer.

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