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Danish ballet films with English surtitles

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About a year ago some very interesting ballet documentaries by the Danish film maker Jørgen Leth were released on dvd by The Danish Film Institute. They are with English surtitles and as far I can see they are region free:

Jørgen Leth Collection #5 - Portrætfilmene / Portrait Films

On the dvd-set there are (among other things which have nothing to do with ballet) two portrait films about Peter Martins and one long documentary about dancing Bournonville. The latter which dates from 1979 is extremely interesting with lots of footage from rehearsals and performances with the RDB, one of them showing a very young Ib Andersen rehearsing the great pas de deux from "The Kermesse at Bruges" with an equally young Mette-Ida Kirk under the directions of the legendary Hans Brenaa. It's absolute gold and one can learn a lot about what Bournonville style really is by watching this film. The ballets "Napoli" and "The Conservatoire" are also represented.

The dvd is available on the homepage of the Danish Film Institute:

Link to the netshop (please scroll down to volume 5)

Please be careful: All Leth's movies are on offer in a box set on the Institute's hompage at the moment, but it is only volume 5 which is of ballet interest. It should be possible to buy each volume separately.

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Thanks for that, Anne. I've seen the Dancing Bournonville film several times and I agree with you! It was done right before the first Bournonville Festival, back in 1979, as an introduction. It's also amazing to see who they had teaching then -- it was back in the day when the company's retired stars taught in the School,even the small children's classes.

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Anne, thank you so much for telling us about this set.

Yesterday afternoon, sandik and I watched "Dancing Bournonville" and "Step on Step", the latter created from the outtakes of the Peter Martins portrait. It was amazing seeing all of the great dancer-turned-teachers: Flemming Ryberg, Fredbjorn Bjornson, Henning Kronstam (with eyes in the back of his head and xray vision), Erik Bruhn (oh, such beautiful hands), Hans Brenaa, and Stanley Williams (looking strikingly handsome and uttering probably half of all of the verbal instructions in his teaching career).

In "Dancing Bournonville" it was a thrill to see the young and unguarded Ib Andersen being coached, with Metta Ida Kirk, by Hans Brenaa in "Kermesse in Bruges", and the breathtaking performance of the Tarantella from "Napoli". The only thing missing were complete credits: there is no indication in the DVD or in the set booklet who danced in "Napoli" (unless they were listed on the bottom of the screen in subtitle form, something cut off for us.) In "Step on Step", there were outtakes of rehearsals of "Afternoon of a Faun" -- one scene with Robbins coaching -- and "Flower Festival of Genzano", both with Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, and I was blown away by how imperturbable Heather Watts was in the midst of being tossed, turned, spun, caught, stretched, pushed, and pulled by Daniel Duell in rehearsal for "Calcium Light Night".

I'm going to wear out these disks, I can see :) They are well worth it.

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The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts online catalog lists the following information about "Dancing Bournonville":


  • Brief excerpt from a performance of Conservatoriet. Direction: Flemming Ryberg. Scenery and costumes: Ove C. Pedersen. Music: H.S. Paulli.
  • Brief segments showing various teachers in class:
    1. children's class conducted by Flemming Ryberg
    2. Fredbjørn Bjørnsson teaching a men's "Wednesday" class
    3. Henning Kronstam teaching an adult class
    4. Erik Bruhn, as guest director, teaching a women's class.

    [*] Hans Brenaa teaching a mime sequence to Mette-Ida Kirk and Ib Andersen in preparation for restaging of Kermessen i Brügge. A week later, Brenaa rehearsing the same ballet with Kirk and Andersen.

    [*]Another week later, Brenaa directing Kirk in the same ballet on stage.

    [*]Backstage preparations before the premier of the same ballet shows dancers making up and warming up, and Brenaa giving a brief pre-performance talk to the dancers.

    [*]Mette-Ida Kirk and Ib Andersen in the Pas de deux, Act I, from Kermessen i Brügge in performance. Direction: Hans Brenaa. Scenery and costumes: Lars Juhl. Music: H.S. Paulli.

    [*]Performance of Tarentella from Act III of Napoli. Direction: Kirsten Ralov. Scenery and costumes: Søren Frandsen. Music: Paulli.

    [*]Kirsten Ralov instructing Linda Hindberg and Arne Villumsen in a run-through of the Pas de deux from Flower Festival at Genzano.

Does anyone know who was in the Tarantella towards the end? I know Ib Andersen was one of the men -- he's the one who grab's for the woman's foot -- and I think Arne Villumsen was, too. (Not Gennaro, though, like in the later video with Linda Hindberg.)

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Yes, it is a true gem, isn't it! I'm glad you liked it.

But they ought to have credited the dancers at the end of the dvd or at least in the leaflet. I have researched a bit, and I think what we see is taken from the performance of Napoli in the first Bournonvillle Festival in 1979, on the evening of November 26. It was shown on Danish television a few days later, on December 5.

I watched the Napoli tarantella section once more, and I'm quite sure about most of the dancers - the remaining two dancers I will come back with later, when I have contacted the archive of the Royal Danish Theatre tomorrow:

In order of appearance:

Man with blue scarf: Frank Andersen

Woman with orange skirt: ?

Man with yellow scarf and a hat (Gennaro): Niels Kehlet

Woman with winered bodice (Teresina): Eva Kloborg

Man with blue scarf: Arne Bech

Woman with yellow bodice: Mette-Ida Kirk

Man with red scarf: Arne Willumsen

Woman with light blue bodice: ?

Man with red scarf: Ib Andersen

Woman with dark blue bodice: Inge Jensen

Man with blue scarf: Arne Bech

Woman with pink bodice: Linda Hindberg

I love - among many other things in this film - the way Mette-Ida Kirk does her tarantella-steps in a very casual way while she mounts the red scarf around her waist, and then suddenly starts dancing properly. It is such a playful way with the steps, which you can only allow yourself to do, if you are completely at home with the style.

In the beginnig of the film you can see a very young Nilas Martin among the boys in the first row in The Conservatory (the whiteblond one).

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Anne -- thank you so much!!!

When sandik and I were watching it, I mumbled something about that blond boy looking like Nilas Martins (and then trying to do the math to see if it were possible), but then thought, "Probably every other boy in Denmark looks like that."

Niels Kehlet had a lot of character in the "Tarantella". I had heard his name, but never seen him before.

I keep watching for the scenes in the studio through the warm-up before the performance where Hans Brenaa coaches, demonstrates, fusses about every detail of Kirk's costume in that wild shirt from the '70's, and, especially encourages. I wouldn't have thought him 60, let alone 70. I'm considering buying a second set, because if anything happened to this disk, I'd be crushed.

Edited to add: I just found this review of the first Bournonville Festival by Tobi Tobias, which was reprinted in her Arts Journal blog, "Seeing Things", before she was able to review the second.

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Well, it apparently takes some time to find out who is who on the dvd! I have been in contact several times with a friendly and very helpfull lady in the archive of the Royal Danish Theatre, and we have come so far until now that we can say that the tarantel in the film is definately NOT taken from the Napoli of the Bournonville Festival 1979. The kind lady is still working on the "case", and I'll come back when I know more!

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After watching "Dancing Bournonville" for the fifty-zillionth time, my experience has been that the film dies in the last chapter, with Ralov supposedly coaching Hindberg and Villumsen in "Flower Festival Pas de Deux". It's as if all of the air is sucked out of the room.

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I went straight away to see this last chapter of the film again, as I have never thought of it in that way (though I have watched this part several times because of Villumsen's perfection in his solo). I can't quite figure out what you mean by "the film dies"? Do you think of it as an intended or an unintended effect? I think it is a beautiful but very quiet way of ending the film with Villumsen and Hindberg ending up in a typical and gracious Bournonville pose.

I'm really glad that you enjoy this film so much. The film has this rare quality which is so seldom in today's docus: to let things speak for themselves and give them time and space to enfold. The speaker is very discrete and withdraws as soon as the scene is set, and leaves the rest to the camera's eyes and ears.

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I don't think the impression I got was intended :)

After seeing Brenaa's astonishing connection with the dancers, his energy, his demonstrations -- his overall involvement -- to watch Ralov barely engaging with the dancers, except to make one technical correction, was such a let-down. She sat in a chair and rarely moved. I would have been unable to sit still watching Villumsen's solo.

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