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Dancing Across the Atlantic
USA – Denmark 1900-2014

Original Danish Version: Dans over Atlanten (2014)

By Erik Aschengreen

Forward by Nikolaj Hübbe
Photo Editors:
Judy Bernstein Bunzl and Erik Aschengreen
Translation by William Anthony

American Friends of the Royal Danish Ballet
And the Royal Danish Theatre

(Book Purchase Page)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 20, 2015

(See New York City Ballet Reviews)
(See a Recent Review of The Royal Danish Ballet)

Dr. Erik Aschengreen, author of the comprehensive and expansive new book, Dancing Across the Atlantic, about the history of The Royal Danish Ballet and its numerous collaborations with American choreographers and companies, served for decades as professor of ballet aesthetics history at the University of Copenhagen. He is now a lecturer and writer, and Nikolaj Hübbe, the Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet, with help from American Friends of the Royal Danish Ballet, and the Royal Danish Theatre, persuaded Professor Aschengreen to create this exceptional book. It would be a classy “coffee table book”, as hundreds of fascinating photos of ballet and dance celebrities, most of which I had never seen, enhance and support the narrative. The book’s design and format are exceedingly comfortable to read, chapter to chapter, and to peruse large and smaller photos of international choreographers, dancers, directors, and designers.

In 2008, I lamented Mr. Hübbe’s retiring from New York City Ballet, as he exuded such gripping charisma, driven theatricality, and elegant dance physique. Yet, New York’s loss was Copenhagen’s fortune. In Dancing Across the Atlantic, Mr. Hübbe writes, in a Forward, titled “Waves of movement inspiration”, of memories of his earliest connections to the US dance community, such as his residency, as a Jacob’s Pillow summer student and classes at the School of American Ballet. He writes of leaving the Royal Danish Ballet in 1992 to become a Principal in New York City Ballet, then of returning to the Royal Danish Ballet immediately on retirement, in 2008, as its new Artistic Director. Denmark was considered the home of old world ballet, he writes, while the US was known for the revival of classical ballet and for the creation of modern dance. Dr. Aschengreen was Mr. Hübbe’s former ballet history teacher and a connoisseur of the Royal Danish, so it was natural that the company’s Artistic Director asked the greatest Danish ballet connoisseur to create this treasured book.

Included in the approximately 300, large glossy pages are: 1. a story about The Royal Danish Ballet’s origins and fame, 2. a description of 20th Century (through 1950) Danish dancers, who trained and performed in the US, and American ballet dancers, who trained and performed in Copenhagen; 3. the relationship of George Balanchine and the Royal Danish Ballet, 4. the Danish at Jacob’s Pillow, 5. Danish choreographers and dancers visiting the US (1950-70), 6. stories about eleven of the Royal Danish US tours, 7. traveling guests from Denmark to the US and from the US to Denmark, 8. the Danish dancers in the New York City Ballet, ...and through Chapter 19.

Each chapter is engagingly developed with carefully documented photographs, the early black and white, many from the 1950’s-70’s, and current photographs of new choreographies and company dances, not only from the Royal Danish, but also many from New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet. In fact, one sequence of three pages shows both the Danish, Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet, whose own history as a dancer with the Royal Danish is documented in this book, and Nikolaj Hübbe, teaching at the School of American Ballet (affiliated with City Ballet). There’s a 2008 photo of Mr. Hübbe teaching a student who joined the Royal Danish that same year, as Mr. Hübbe returned after his Farewell.

But the stories and photos are not just about the members of City Ballet and the Royal Danish. There’s an anecdote about the sensation caused in Copenhagen by the American, Josephine Baker in 1925, dancing Danse Sauvage in her banana skirt and oversized jewelry, with nothing else. Her fans helped open Copenhagen to the African-American culture and the modern dance companies led by Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, and Talley Beatty. There are photos and descriptions of many other American companies that performed in Copenhagen, such as American Ballet Theatre in 1977, bringing the Russian Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1985, and the Graham Company in 1979. An iconic photo of Ms. Graham in her requisite Halston gown, taking a bow, appears as well.

Stories and photos of Bournonville’s ballets performed in New York include a 1975 photo of Rudolf Nureyev dancing with Cynthia Gregory and Erik Bruhn in La Ventana, and a 1974 photo of Eleanor D’Antuono and Fernando Bujones dancing Bournonville’s Napoli-Divertissement, also with Ballet Theatre. August Bournonville (1805-1879) was Ballet Master and Choreographer of the Royal Danish Ballet, where he created over fifty ballets, ten of which are still actively staged in the repertoire. Bournonville’s ballets are considered “positive”, with his only “tragic” ballet being La Sylphide, his most famous, and the same ballet, coincidentally, that Peter Martins is now restaging (after Bournonville) for City Ballet. Many choreographers of Bournonville’s era focused on intense passion, while Bournonville focused on extraordinary footwork and seamless motion.

Bournonville’s other renowned ballets are Napoli, Le Conservatoire, and A Folk Tale, all of which were excerpted in the Royal Danish’s recent production at The Joyce. In the Bournonville ballets, the dancers seem to have internal springs and the ability to fly off the floor. They reveal no pain or stress. Feet move quickly while arms remain elegant. To assure that students and dancers in Copenhagen learn the proper Bournonville techniques, the Bournonville School still thrives today. Today, one can enjoy watching Bournonville ballets for their grace and eloquence. A multitude of Bournonville ballet photos, in rehearsal and performance, appear in this book.

The tight connection forged by the Russian dancer, choreographer, impresario, George Balanchine, is detailed and celebrated in an expanded Chapter 3, and then reiterated and quoted throughout the book, as Balanchine’s influence on this special relationship was so profound. Balanchine first visited Copenhagen as a Guest Choreographer, after Serge Diaghilev, founder of Ballets Russes, died. Balanchine staged two programs with a total of four seasoned Russian ballets and two original choreographies. The audiences, so comfortable with Bournonville, were not pleased. Even Apollo, Leader of the Muses (now just called Apollo), so fascinating to the dancers, was not fascinating to the critics.

Soon after, Balanchine came to New York. In 1952, he returned to Copenhagen, two years after a handwritten invitation from Harold Lander, then Royal Danish Artistic Director. He brought his Symphony in C (one of my favorites), scored to Bizet, and had Vida Brown stage the ballet. He used the décor of crystal chandeliers that he used for this ballet in Paris, five years earlier, with the four movements in varied costume color (now black and white with silvery Swarovski crystals). The Danish loved Symphony in C.

Many of Balanchine’s early works followed, such as Concerto Barocco. In 1957 Balanchine staged Serenade and Apollo, as he had now formed New York City Ballet (1948) with Lincoln Kirstein. It was in Copenhagen, in 1956, that Balanchine’s wife, the City Ballet Principal, Tanaquil LeClerq, was diagnosed with paralyzing polio, never to dance again. Over the decades, the Royal Danish has introduced more and more Balanchine ballets into its repertoire, like The Prodigal Son and Agon, and Aschengreen’s book generously illustrates this collaboration with photos.

This partnership eventually grew to include seventeen Danish dancers within the ranks of City Ballet, the most important of whom is Peter Martins, City Ballet’s Ballet Master in Chief. Mr. Martins trained at the Royal Danish, joining the Company in 1965. In 1967, already a Principal dancer, he was a Guest Artist in New York at City Ballet, as The Prince, in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. (Dr. Aschengreen also includes quotes from news magazine interviews throughout this book.) After dancing Balanchine’s Apollo, Mr. Martins had an opportunity to reprise the role at the Edinburgh Festival, where he and Balanchine cemented their professional relationship. After dancing two years as a Guest Artist in New York, Balanchine invited him to join City Ballet, which Mr. Martins did in 1970. Mr. Martins had many roles created on him by both Balanchine and City Ballet Co-Founder, Jerome Robbins.

A few of the other Danish dancers who joined City Ballet are Stanley Williams (teacher at School of American Ballet), Ib Anderson, Nilas Martins, Ask la Cour, and, of course, Nikolaj Hübbe. I look forward to further exploring Dancing Across the Atlantic, especially the magnetic and mesmerizing photographs that grip the eye. Kudos to Professor Aschengreen, and kudos to the Royal Danish Ballet and its US partner, New York City Ballet.

Dancing Across the Atlantic by Erik Aschengreen
Photo Front Cover:
Darci Kistler and Nikolaj Hübbe
in George Balanchine's "Apollo"
New York City Ballet 2004.
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik
Book Photo Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Dancing Across the Atlantic by Erik Aschengreen
Photo Front Cover:
Caroline Cavallo and Mads Blangstrup
as Teresina and Gennaro
in August Bournonville's "Napoli"
Royal Danish Ballet, 1997/8.
Courtesy of Huset Mydtskov
Book Photo Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at