Gudrun Bojesen is now the leading Danish ballerina, but is no longer identified primarily as a Bournonville dancer. The lasts seasons have seen her develop into a dramatic ballerina with a strong grip on the audience. But Gudrun Bojesen’s ambition is as much turned to the modern dance scene as to the classical repertoire. This interview was made in relation to the 2011 US tour. Since then Gudrun Bojesen has continiued to move and impress the audience and is now preparing the title role in John Neumeier's "Lady of Camille"
Gudrun Bojesen is a dancer, who embodies the Danish style. Not only is her grip on Bournonville impeccable. Her style of dancing show the heritage back to the glorious 50ties, where the Royal Danish Ballet became a famous company and through her mother she is related to Edel Petersen, a dancer at The RDB and a pupil of Hans Beck, who is the main preserver of the Bournonville heritage.
“It was Edel’s wish to film the Bournonville Schools. It was not possible in her time, so when the project was launched in relation to the Bournonville Festival in 2005, I naturally got involved. It was a great task, and it is not an easy project to dance the schools within in the limits of a film studio. But I am very proud of our achievements and I am glad that my great aunt’s wish is fulfilled,” states Gudrun Bojesen.
Bournonville is a lifetime commitment for Gudrun Bojesen. She feels strongly that Bournonville should be taught continuously in the company and with her almost full house of Bournonville roles she represent probably the deepest knowledge on Bournonville’s female curriculum.
But now in her thirties she enjoys taking her own dancing into new territories. Some roles she has done previously but the Odette-Odile, Giselle, Tatiana and Titania, she has shown over the last season’s shows a ballerina of highest international standard and with a dramatic and poetic dept that transfers the young sunny ingénue of younger years to a mature and breathtaking performer.
But the road has not been without obstacles. Bojesen had her formative years as a young dancer in the period, where the company had 4 ballet masters in 6 years and although one of them, Maina Gielgud, saw great potential in Bojesen, it was a disturbing period.
“For every new ballet master we were told to somewhat change the way we danced. Some wanted us to change our footwork. Others had other taste issues. It was like a person was told constantly to change the way they brushed their teeth or washed their hair,” Bojesen remembers. And during that period Bournonville was sheltered. That changed with Frank Andersen’s second tenure where Bournonville came back as the key choreographer and Bojesen and her frequent partner Thomas Lund were the lead couple in the Bournonville festival in 2005.
But following the festival Bojesen and Lund found themselves relegated to a back seat in the casting.
“I have never really been given an explanation, and it would have been nice to know”, says Bojesen, who then participated in several extracurricular activities including working with more modern choreographers.
The cooling period in a way made it possible for Gudrun Bojesen to take her career in new directions. And though opportunities were fewer, it was amazing to see what Bojesen could achieve with the roles, she got to work with. A good example was Flemming Flindt rather problematic ballet “Caroline Mathilde” based on the short and tragic life of a British princess trapped in a marriage to the insane Danish king Christian the 7th and finding comfort in an affair with the king’s doctor and advisor. In short the ballet can be described as a bad ballet with good parts. And Bojesen, supported by Thomas Lund as the king, Mads Blangstrup as the doctor and Silja Schandorff as the evil dowager queen, almost managed a turnaround of the work. A few years later the ballerinaship of Bojesen likewise saved another problematic work, Tim Rushton’s Cinderella.
Fairy tale material
When Frank Andersen has been the ballet master, John Neumeier has always been a key choreographer for the company and Gudrun Bojesen had been casted frequently in his works, but not always in the roles one would expect. Neumeier had certainly seen something else than a romantic ingénue in Bojesen. Where one expect Bojesen as Juliet, Hermia and the little mermaid, Neumeier has instead cast her as Rosaline, Titania and the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. But Bojesen does not regret being cast in the more mature roles: “I was actually relieved not to be the mermaid. In much of the standard repertoire the female parts are often rather sad and victimized, so I loved dancing the part of the bold and strong princess “, Bojesen remembers.
This season she has the double role as Hippolyta and Titania in Neumeiers “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a part that drags the ballerina though every style known to mankind. Bojesen found her key in advice from John Neumeier and inspiration from the actress Sonja Ricther, who can be described as Bojesen’s opposite number in Royal Theatres drama wing:
“John made me aware of how I should be as energetic outwards as inwards, especially in the prologue where all character are on stage and I tended to hold back a bit to let the others have their moments. Seeing Sonia at Café Holberg gave me the idea to focus on the dramatic content, as an actress would, and that somehow made the technical challenges easier”, Bojesen explains.
These last seasons has also shown how much Gudrun Bojesen can bring to almost any partnership. At Kenneth Greve’s farewell performance in Onegin, for the first and only time, Bojesen was his Tatiana and it struck me that this partnership, not employed much during the years, could have been potentially as good as Greve’s with Schandorff and Bojesen’s with Mads Blangstrup and Thomas Lund. Gudrun Bojesen was also the ballerina to bring out the best in Nehemiah Kish, who in spite some very fine dancing, not really succeeded in conquering the more dramatic demands of a danseur noble.
As a senior ballerina, Bojesen also shares the task of “breaking in” the new generation of male dancers, and here her partnerships with Sebastian Kloborg and Alban Lendorf are firm favorites, not only among reviewers and audience, but also for Gudrun Bojesen herself.
She enjoys the strong partnering, commitment and dramatic skills of Sebastian Kloborg, her partner in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and in “Cinderella”. But when first presented with the pairing with young and brilliant Alban Lendorf in “Swan Lake”, she was a little cautious:
“In Swan Lake” you really need a partner that can support you and it is a lot to expect from such a young dancer, but once we got started, I found that his partner skills were really strong. Falling back in his arms I was as safe as in an easy chair. And his dramatics skills and understanding of the part was both mature and inspiring, so it was a great joy to dance with him.”
Bojesen and Lendorf were also first cast for Christopher Wheeldon’s “Sleeping Beauty” and a cast much was expected from. Unfortunately Bojesen has to bow out a few days before the first night due to a minor. Hopefully we will get the chance to see her in this production that is so clearly is built to her personality and style.
A wise man once separated ballerinas into those who “are” and those who “do”. His view was that the ones who “are” last longer than the one who “do”. And Gudrun Bojesen is definitely in the first category. Her personality is a strong component of her big audience appeal. Yet Gudrun Bojesen does not dance for the audience’s pleasure. She freely admits that she dances for herself, for her own enjoyment and for infusing her own ideas in the interpretation, but is happy to allow the audience in. Gudrun Bojesen has recently been in Argentina and has found kindred spirits in the local Tango environment, where you dance not for a paycheck or as a living but for the love of dancing. For a primarily classical dancer she has a great understanding and love for the modern dance scene and sees her future as a mediator between the environments. She loves the works of Jiri Kylian, who choreographed as pas de deux for her and Thomas Lund for the “Silk and Knife” programme a few seasons back , and Alexei Ratmansky, whom she danced with during his tenure at RDB and whom created the part as Kitty for her in his version of “Anna Karenina”.
She has also strong ties to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who choreographed the central part in “L'Homme de Bois” for her and she took leave to work with him in Milan.
It is not yet clear which roles Gudrun Bojesen will dance at the tour, but the Sylph and Etudes is likely candidates. As the tour includes “The Lesson” a work where Gudrun Bojesen had danced the part of the pupil with Thomas Lund as the cruel dancing teacher for many years, audience might expect to catch her there, but allthough they will see Gudrun Bojesen in the ballet, it will be in the character role as the pianist and not as the ingénue. It can be seen as a metaphor for the development of Bojesen’s career and it will show the American audience a new and exciting phase for the most Danish of Danish ballerinas.
Born: 1976, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Gudrun Bojesen was admitted to the Royal Danish Ballet School in 1984, she became an apprentice in 1992 and a corps dancer 1994. In 2000 she was made soloist and she was promoted to principal dancer in 2001.
Principal soloist roles at the Royal Danish Theatre
Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the Princess in The Nutcracker, Tatiana in Onegin, the Ballerina in Etudes, Giselle and Titania in Midsummernights dream. Of the Bournonville repertoire she has danced: Teresina in Napoli, La Sylphide, Elenora in The Kermesse in Bruges, Hilda in A Folk Tale, Elise and Victorine in La Conservatoire, Flower Festival in Genzano and Wilhelm Tell. Of Balanchine ballets she has danced: The black angel in Serenade, the ballerina in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Symphony in C- 2, 1, 3 movement, The Tin Soldier and Tarantella.
Principal soloist appearances
The cigarette and whistle solo in Suite en Blanc, Lucille Grahn in Pas de Quatre, the student in The Lesson, the soloist roles in Stepping Stones, Return to a Strange Land, Bella Figura, L'homme de bois, Jazz, Turandot’s Dream, Vers un pays Sage, In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, Dances at the Gathering. New creations has been made for her by Jiri Kylian, Kim Brandstrup, Par Isberg, Jacopo Godani and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Gudrun Bojesen has performed throughout most of Europe, China, Canada and the USA in numerous Bournonville ballets, such as La Sylphide and Napoli at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Madrid, Pragh and Rome; A Folk Tale and Napoli in Beijing, Romeo and Juliet in Tokyo, and The Kermesse in Bruges and Gala Romantica in Rome, Tarantella and Flower festival in Genzano in Spoleto, Tjaikovskij pas de deux in Nerja, Giselle in Dresden, Rheingold in La Scala Milan.
Principal awards and grants
The 1997 Sven Aage Larsen Award, the 1999 Bournonville Award, the 2000 Albert Gaubier’s Award as well as The John Audun Roager and Else Marie Duvier’s Grant in 2000, Premio Positano 2001, the Hans Beck’s Memorial Award 2001, the Niels Mathiasen Award 2004, and the theatre journalists Theatre Cup in 2005, Reumert Dancer of the year 2008.