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Dive into the world of Ballet 

Not familiar with ballet? Well, you’re in the right place to be introduced to this royal dance form, as Denmark boasts one of the oldest ballet schools in the world. Ballet performances also have the great advantage that expats do not need to understand Danish (or English for that matter) to follow the narrative. Ballet is all about dancing, gestures, mimics, and, of course, music.

By Bente D. Knudsen   Pictures: Det Kongelige Teater

The ballet season runs from early autumn until spring, and traditionally, each year, a range of beloved ballets are performed, together with new additions.

Ballet is a very traditional art form in Denmark; here The Royal Ballet excels in the old masters such as Bournonville and Balanchine.

In recent years, however, a new controversial ballet master, Nikolaj Hübbe, has introduced modern interpretations of the old masters in an effort to create a 21st century ballet, much to the frustration of the ballet traditionalists who prefer seeing their treasured ballets performed in the way they were used to.

Nevertheless, the modernised productions have also received great acclaim and maybe even lured newcomers to the ballet scene.

But first some ballet history.

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The Royal Danish Ballet takes its beginning back in 1771 and is, together with the School of the Paris Opera and the Ballet School in St. Petersburg, among the oldest in the world.

The school’s actual foundations were laid by the most famous person within Danish ballet, August Bournonville (1805-1879), who was ballet master in Copenhagen from 1830 until 1877. He staged nearly 50 ballets and is referred to as “the H.C. Andersen of ballet”. Both were actually born the same year and knew each other well.

Bournonville was born in Copenhagen, the son of a French dancer (who educated him in the best French dancing traditions) and a Swedish mother.

Many of his works are still performed, and the Royal Danish Ballet possesses a larger number of ballets from the Romantic period of the 19th century than any other ballet company in the world.

Among these are La Sylphide (1836), Napoli (1842), Le Conservatoire (1849), A Folk Tale (1854) and The Flower Festival in Genzano (1854).

They are not all put up each season, so you have to keep watch to find out when they are on. Napoli, for instance, will only be performed for a week in June 2018.

Bournonville was firmly founded in the cultural tradition of the period, the Danish Romanticism, and he maintained that art should be positive.

Its purpose, as he saw it, being to “elevate us and make us into harmonious beings”.

The harmony can be found not only in the stories told and the happy endings of his ballets, but also in his style of beautiful proportions and delicate musical timing.

A speciality of the Royal Danish Ballet remains its story-telling ballets in continuation of the Bournonville tradition.

Apart from the Bournonville ballets, Balanchine’s ballets are also frequently performed, and after the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet has the greatest number of Balanchine ballets in its repertoire in Europe.

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What characterises Bournonville and the Royal Ballet?
According to The Royal Ballet, the Bournonville style is characterized by the intimate charm of the female dancers and a discrete physical freshness amongst the males.

Feet and legs work quickly, with many small steps as they move over the stage, constantly changing direction. There are no big lifts or acrobatic throws.

Also the female dancers do not stand on their toes for long periods of time, nor do the male dancers whirl along over the stage on their own. Instead they dance together and tell a tale of love and joy of life.

Great and dramatic throws (as seen in the Russian ballet tradition) are not common either.

Interestingly, The Royal Ballet is a very international company. Of the 80 dancers, almost a third are not Danish, but rather dancers from around the world.

They represent 15 different countries, from the US, England, France, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Sweden, Spain, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Korea, Albania, Hungary and Monaco.

However, not only the old masters are performed as also modern ballets by recent choreographers are put up such as Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier as well as the young choreographers Tim Rushton, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon.

With its combination of modern and classic performances, the Danish ballet ensemble is able to meet many stylistic demands.

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A first timer in Copenhagen – Raymonda
This season The Royal Ballet grapples one of the legendary pieces from the Russian ballet tradition, the ballet Raymonda, created by the great choreographer Marius Petipa.

Petipa is also the original choreographer responsible for the two famous ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, both of which are performed also this season by The Royal Ballet. In Denmark the versions performed of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are from Balanchine’s take on them.

It is the first time that Raymonda is put up in Denmark, and Danish Ballet Master Nikolaj Hübbe has moved the story from the Middle Ages to the 18th century rocco of Southern Europe. Read our review from the premiere here.

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Where to start if you are not a ballet fan?
If the world of ballet is new to you, The Royal Ballet recommends that a good beginner’s ballet could be the Russian classic Swan Lake, which will be performed at the Copenhagen Opera from mid-February until June 2018, or of course The Royal Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker which starts 1 December and is on all of December – with a guest tour to Aarhus as well.

The performance Dans2Go could be a good introduction. For only DKK 250, an evening of dance is offered at the Old Stage, with a free choice of seating (on a first-come, first-served basis when buying the tickets).

Here, the program takes the audience through classical heritage with The Dance School, an excerpt from Bournonville’s Le Conservatoire, as well as the more modern ballet by Jerome Robbins, Other Dances.

Or you could opt for Ballet de Luxe, a performance where the history of ballet is reviewed, with pieces from Bournonville’s most beloved ballets, Napoli and The Flower Festival at Genzano, as well as Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake, and John Neumeier’s Romeo and Juliet.

A few tips for the season 2017/2018

Raymonda– the Old Stage (Kgs.Nytorv) from 16 November 2017 to 20 April 2018

The Nutcracker – the Old Stage (Kgs.Nytorv) from 1 December to 22 December 2017

The Nutcracker on tour – Musikhuset Aarhus 29 and 30 December 2017

Dance2Go – the Old Stage (Kgs.Nytorv) from 17 November 2017 to 9 March 2018

Swan Lake – the main stage at the Opera House from 10 February 2018 to 3 June 2018

Ballet de Luxe – the Old Stage (Kgs.Nytorv) from 5 Maj to 23 May 2018

For the full program, visit the Royal Theater here (also an English option). The site also enable you to buy tickets online.

 

Need to know

Mime: the art of telling a story, expressing feelings or an atmosphere, or describing an action, through only facial expressions, body language and gestures. Derived from pantomime.

Ballet: A theatre piece/play consisting of dance and mime. Ballet d’action: Ballet that tells a story, and all the elements– music, dancing, choreography and stage setting/scenography– have to come together to support the storyline. The Danish Royal Ballet’s style is based on the ballet d’action concept.

Tutu: A very short skirt worn by ballerinas, made of projecting layers of stiffened transparent material made from silk or nylon. It has been the standard costume for female dancers since 1832, when Marie Taglioni wore it in Bournonville’s La Sylphide in 1832.

Securing the heritage
The ballet school for children ages five to eleven, and the apprenticeship program for teenagers, plays an important part in securing the next generation of dancers for the ballet ensemble.

The ballet children follow a regular school curriculum while at the same time receiving daily ballet training. Often they are also part of the regular performances and thus get used to being on stage from an early age.

 

Sources: The Danish Royal Theatre and kglteater.dk. Pictures: Private, Det Kongelige Teater: Henrik Stenberg, Costin Radu