Nikolaj Hübbe’s first season as Ballet Master of his parent company, the Royal Danish Ballet celebrates the Danish dramatic tradition – without one single Bournonville ballet.
At the press meeting presenting the repertoire for next season – his first- as Ballet Master at the Royal Danish Ballet Nikolaj Hübbe starts with a peep of him teaching company class. As a teacher Hübbe is very attentive to detail, has a very clear vision on how he want the company to dance and is wonderfully illustrative and pedagogic in communicating his message to the company. He does not dictate. He makes suggestions to a young Norwegian dancer: “I would try to be a bit wider”. He sometimes asks one of the dancers to show a specific element to a younger dancer. He is not afraid to praise and he truly sees everything. It is very clear how he wants the company to dance, and the company looked eager, fit and responsive. To have a ballet master with a clear vision on company technique is not something we have been used to for a longer period than I care to remember. And as the press meeting demonstrates, Hübbe’s vision for the company is as a classical company with a great dramatic range. The drama will be important but the base will be technical. Hübbe will continue to teach and together with Niels Balle, director of the ballet school, a main focus will be to recreate a unison company culture and style from the youngest ballet pupil over stars like Silja Schandorff and Thomas Lund to 67 year old character dancer Flemming Ryberg. It is an important vision, because without it the Royal Danish Ballet would be just another ballet company – not the gem of its historic roots. Hübbe is bringing teachers Ingrid Glindemann and Truman Finney in as permanent resources. And Sorella Englund will be back to help dancers with the dramatic content.
Leading the press through the costume workshops, dressed with clues to the repertoire, the press meeting took place back stage at the Old Stage of the Royal Theatre. In the last seasons The Royal Theatre has expanded with a brand new Opera House and a Dramatic theatre leaving the Old Stage free for the Royal Danish Ballet. The company will do a few productions on the new stages, but the main repertoire will be danced on the Old Stage.
Taking over from Frank Andersen, some productions from this season will continue into next season, Jiri Kylians “Silk and Knife”, which have become a major audience draw, “The Nutcracker”, “Don Quixote”, “Onegin”, which will have another revival this spring and two-third of the final modern programme.
Hübbe’s own contributions are paying homage to the Danish tradition without including one Bournonville ballet. His official explanation is that he would like to dedicate time and money to make in depth revivals of the Bournonville heritage –as he did with “La Sylphide” which will be revived this spring. My interpretation is that he wants to show the company, the audience and the critics that the quality of the company is not 100% tied to the Bournonville legacy, but to company culture. If he can prove that point, he may be able to create a consensus that the company dances Bournonville because of the qualities of the works and not because of a historic pledge and obligation. If he can carry it off, he will create the foundation of a much more confident company, because the quality will rest with the dancers and not with the tradition. And he can then turn to Bournonville from a new and stronger base. In that case Bournonville can survive to sit a season out, but it is gamble, and a gamble I hope will be won. Hubbe’s own “La Sylphide” shows him as a careful keeper of the tradition, but Hübbes commitment is not really based on wanting to save the tradition but from a deep felt admiration for the quality of the works. He sees no need to change or to add wild ideas or forced contemporary themes to the works. He wants to bring out their core qualities. We can wait, but not very patiently, to see Hübbe’s own work with Bournonville. I hope it will be worth the wait.
Tales from company history
Hübbe’s first season consist mainly of ballets that are part of the company history. His first major programme will be his own version of “Giselle”, assisted by Sorella Englund and dedicated to Silja Schandorff who reaches retirement age end of season 08-09. The décor will be the beautiful Desmond Heeley décor that was created for Eric Bruhn’s 1978 production and later served the Henning Kronstam’s and Peter Schaufuss’ productions.
Next up will be the first Danish production of “Cinderella”. Tim Rushton, former company member and choreographer will combine the classical company with his own group of modern dancers.
In the schools holidays Thomas Lund and Louise Midjord will create ballets for children and young people. Following “Onegin” and “The Nutcracker”, Hübbe will then present his and all Danish ballet audiences favourite ballet: John Neumeier’s “Romeo and Juliet” with Jürgen Rose’s breathtaking décor and costumes. Hübbe was very clear about the ballet iconic status and declared that there can never be another “Romeo and Juliet” at the company and that the ballet rates up there with “Napoli”, “La Sylphide” and “A Folk Tale.” He also focused on the many dramatic and challenging parts for all categories of dancer.
The next programme will be a mixed Balanchine evening with “Symphony in 3 movements”, “La Sonambule” and “Symphony in C”. “La Sonambule” is an old company standard produced in the 50ties as a vehicle for Margrethe Schanne and Henning Kronstam. It has later been produced with Silhja Schandorff, Lis Jeppesen and Mette-Ida Kirk as the female lead. Hübbe sees it as a piece very suited to the company style. “Symphony in C” will present opportunities for the virtuosos and for the style dancers. Hübbe will be involved in directing the Balanchine programme. For the last programme Jacopo Godany will create a thriller ballet that will be combined with the two most successful of the Naharin,Wheeldon and Duarte programme yet to premier this season.
Looking for a company choreographer
Nikolaj Hübbe revealed that his plans include a company choreographer who can commit to staying with the company for a longer period.The work will include not only creating choreography but also involvement with standard repertoire. Hübbe pointed out that Bournonville himself very much was a house choreographer. There is no name confirmed yet. It is early days yet, but it seems to me to be a very sound strategy. Good choreography is mostly made by choreographers on dancers and companies they have a long-term commitment and relationship with. Hübbe's clear vision and work with the company should assure a long list of applicants for the vacant position.
Hübbe concluded by stating that classical technique is the foundation for classical ballet and classical ballet is the foundation for modern ballet. His first season repertoire shows his commitment to this motto and bode well for a prosperous period for this much tried company.
Can it really be true that we shall have no more dumb-witted revivals of true classics? No more clumsy updates of Bournonville and no more pretentious pop-quasi- modern junk? I am pinching my arm, hoping that this is not a dream. Hopefully, Hübbe has the confidence and taste to stand by his viewpoints and hopefully the audience has the sense and taste to flock to the theatre and enjoy the offerings.