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March 29, 2019

Comments

Simone Jensen

Dear Eva,

Thank you for yet another interesting read. As a fellow balletomane (love that term), I would like to express my full support for many of your arguments. The Royal Danish Ballet is unfortunately dysfunctional. It is such a shame. Some important things simply do not work, and it is hard to figure out where the company is actually heading. I see some fundamental challenges, and will discuss two of them below: the school and the master.

Let us start with the school. It is obvious that the company ballet school led by Thomas Lund does not deliver enough talents. Especially when it comes to young male dancers. Full stop. Seen from the outside, it is difficult to pinpoint what is wrong. The inflow of new students every year seems to be good. There are also some interesting profiles engaged in e.g. Kompagni B, which in general seems successful. But the output after the Apprentice program is not good enough. I sincerely hope that the management at the Royal Danish Ballet scrutinise every corner of the Royal Danish Ballet School, and dares to challenge old traditions, which do not seem to work anymore. In the world of ballet revolution does not work. But please push the right evolution as soon as possible!

Let us turn to the Master. It all started out so good in 2008. This was the Mr. Hübbe I welcomed back to Denmark:

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/arts/dance/10kour.html

But what happened? Wonder if the talented and strong Nikolaj Hübbe recognises this version of himself? Nikolaj has indeed done a tremendous effort for the Royal Danish Ballet, and he really pushed his own agenda in the beginning. However, the last two years have sadly enough not been too successful. Many important and promising dancers have left the Royal Danish Ballet, the repertoire is getting weaker and weaker by the year, and many of the new productions failed and never reached the standards we could expect for a world class ballet company. Has the Danish mentality conquered Nikolaj? Has he given the Royal Danish Ballet what he had to offer? Or can he do a come back and take it to a new level? I definitely hope for the last.

Where will the Royal Danish Ballet go from here? I am not at all convinced that there is a clear vision and strategy. Sadly. Until the problems with the school have been solved, the Royal Danish Ballet needs to embrace, welcome and develop foreign dancers in a large scale. Of course. Should that also nudge the profile of the Royal Danish Ballet? Right now it seems like the master himself is rather confused about that.

Alexander

Hi Simone,

Are the dancers produced at the school really inferior to the extent that 70% of the Royal “Danish” Ballet now needs to be trained elsewhere? And on which criteria? As Balanchine dancers, international generic-style dancers or Danish style dancers?

Danish ballet stood its own based on its unique artistic heritage and style for centuries, even when not dancing Bournonville, but that – to my mind – has been lost under Nikolaj Hübbe: he’s replaced what was original and distinct with a standard international rep and standard international dancing.

That is indeed his agenda, but you can hardly call it visionary, and in consequence not only has the heritage been lost, Copenhagen is no longer on the international ballet map. Sure, it’s a nice enough company. Like everywhere else.

Welcoming foreign dancers on an even larger scale, as you suggest, would actually make no difference at this point, and I fear your admiration of Nikolaj Hübbe is misguided: He’s the problem, not the solution, and things have gotten worse as he started to believe his own press.

Eva Kistrup

When the Royal Danish Ballet School cannot produce male dancers for a prolonged period, there is no alternative to hire from abroad.
I have taken the issue up with both Nikolaj Hübbe and Thomas Lund on several occasions.
Neither seems to understand the seriousness of the issue.

They hang their hat on the fact, that in previous generations, strong male dancers will appear regulary. And yes, some do, but the dry period has been unacceptable long.
On top of that a significant numbers of leading dancers have chosen to go abroad to other companies.
That leaves the RDB with a male wing, where only a few dancers knowing the Bournonville tradition or the dramatic tradition.
Playing little Bournonville and primarily only Nikolaj Hübbe´s own reconstructions of Bournonville classics do not solve the issue.

Dancing Nikolaj Hübbe´s own choreography instead of the real stuff do not keep the tradition alive at any level.

Should a new generation of male dancers appear, there will be hardly any dancers with experience in real Bournonville to teach them and guide them.
At present the RDB is moving very close to the point where the Bournonville male dancing tradition cannot be saved. It will not only be the foreign intake that would suffer, but the whole company.

When Frank Andersen starting supplementing the corps with foreign dancers, he clearly went for demi-caracter dancers, the type most Bournonville choreography is build on.
Most of the foreign dancers, hired by Nikolaj Hübbe, are danseur nobles and very few of them have so far showed the knack for Bournonville.

As Bournonville is seldom performed they do not even get a chance to test their potential skills.
When Nikolaj Hübbe promoted Liam Redhead and Guilherme de Menezes to soloists this week, he a least promoted demi-caracter dancers, which off course means nothing if the company hardly ever dance Bournonville.
Currently the male wing is saved primarily by the high standard of Andreas Kaas and Jon Axel Fransson, but will they stay true to the national company, when both are kept waiting for the ultimate Danish classical role, James?

It is very difficult to outline the future of the RDB tradition of strong male dancing:
- A school that do not deliver good male dancers.
- An artistic director who have little interest in Bournonville.
- A small band of good Bournonville and classical dancers who hardly ever dance Bournonville´s real choreography,
- Upcoming strong technical and dramatic dancers, homegroomed or from abroad, looked over for good roles and promotions.
- and finally a large intake of international dancers, who might get a chance at a role now and then or othervise fill out the bland spots?
How can you turn these groups into a coherent company with shared values?
I do not know how, but I do know. it must be attempted.
Last season Liam Scarlett created "Queen of Spades" which included big scenes for the male company.
Works like that could be a tool in creating a coherent and proud male company.
The ballet school also needs to find the right focus. Having interviewed Thomas Lund twice over the last few years, I know that a lot of the focus is on providing the children with good academic skills.
Hovever, the school need s to focus more on the artistic side and on building a group of strong dancers.
We will probably see more foreign dancers join the RDB in the coming years. There is no alternative with the week output from the school
The school cannot produce 20 male dancers in 3 years, but the company leadership could research potential partner schools and provide training and teachers preparing the young boys for potential career i Copenhagen.
It is a long shot, but it might work. Saving Bournonville and the Danish tradition for good male dancing should be on top on the artistic Director´s agenda.

Simone Jensen

Thank you both for engaging in this very important debate. I find it highly interesting, and I sincerely hope that the management of the Royal Danish Ballet reads and reflects on our posts.

I’m pleased to note that all three of us agree that the Royal Danish Ballet is broken and needs to be repaired. So far so good. I acknowledge that we may have three different solutions to the problem, but as long as we are debating the matter, I’m happy. Because I do believe that debating these issues equals caring for the future of the Royal Danish Ballet.

We have discussed the challenges with the Royal Danish Ballet School and the Ballet Master. The next topics in line are of course the vision, strategy and branding. In my opinion, it is very difficult to understand the Royal Danish Ballet’s desired position on these concepts when taking an outside in view on the company. Actually, it is all over the place! Just one example: Many highly skilled foreign dancers have been invited to join the company, but they are all asked to stand in the shadow of Ida Praetorius on the women’s wing and Andreas on the men’s wing. Why is that?

I get the impression that Nikolaj Hübbe and the management team have no idea of where they are heading or where they actually would like to go. Both equally bad. There are indeed many different options to pursue – ranging from a pure and strict focus on Bournonville on the one extreme, to an international modern and generic style on the other extreme. I can easily come up with pros and cons for both overall directions. The key point is however to choose one, find out how to get there and start working in a far more structured fashion. Even though this is art, I think we need to introduce some business concepts here. So define the vision, define the strategy, set up the relevant key performance indicators and track your progress. It can be done.

“If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you are heading” (Lau Tzu). Right now, the Royal Danish Ballet is heading towards a position as yet another ballet company with no distinct profile or clear values. And I may get there. What a shame that would be!

Alexander


Hi Simone,

"Right now, the Royal Danish Ballet is heading towards a position as yet another ballet company with no distinct profile or clear values."

In my opinion, that's been the case for at least the past 6 years, sadly. Done and dusted, there is no repertory you don’t get anywhere else, no style and an overall international identity. Everything that made the RDB unique is gone; the ballets and the schooling and style that informed even the non-Bournonville rep.

The question is whether it's also too late to bring what was lost back, and that we will only know if Hübbe suddenly changes priorities or decides to move on. Both seem unlikely. What we’re seeing is who he is, it all he has to offer; he’s had 12 years.

And where would he go? Helsinki? Dresden?

I don't agree at all with what you're implying about Hübbe favouring Danish dancers. It's the absolute opposite, as I see it. He clearly chooses foreign-trained dancers over RDB alumni when hiring AND when promoting soloists and principals. Eva will have the stats on that.

One question this situation has brought to the fore is whether being a good dancer, a principal dancer even, qualifies you to be a good artistic director. It's a myth and it's time to deal with it, including the misconception/tradition that male principal dancers direct the company.

Something needs to happen but how? Politicians don't give a toss, the board only looks at numbers, the general audience and media believes Nikolaj Hübbe is an artistic authority because he's a judge on Strictly Come Dancing.

It’s not looking great. And btw, I’m NOT a Bournonville fundamentalist, I’m just profoundly disappointed that Nikolaj Hübbe has eradicated what he inherited – and replaced it with nothing new, nothing original. It’s all franchising and copies.

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