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Book Review by Michael W. Phelan

Dancing Across the Atlantic: USA–Denmark 1900-2014

by Erik Aschengreen, Foreword by Nikolaj Hübbe

Published by the Royal Danish Theater in collaboration with the American Friends of the Royal Danish Ballet. 

Fleming Flindt, Harald Lander, Peter Martins, and many other Danish figures of dance, rank among American followers of ballet as icons of the art. In Dancing Across the Atlantic: USA–Denmark 1900-2014, dance journalist Erik Aschengreen details the origins and motivations that have fueled the longstanding relationship between the innovators of dance in both countries, and contributed to their development of ballet.

Inge Sand in Copellia, 1950-51 season. Photo by Huset Mydtskov.

Erik Aschengreen is more than qualified on the subject. He has authored numerous articles in major dance publications, as well as several books on ballet and modern dance, including The Royal Danish Ballet US Tour 2011: Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Theater), also with an introduction by Nikolaj Hübbe, Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet.

In a beautifully illustrated, 304 page coffee table book, Aschengreen presents the history of the Royal Danish Ballet, their devotion to the Bournonville technique, and the American choreographers and dancers who influenced them to move beyond Bournonville. He recounts how Danish dancers started coming to the USA in 1921, when Mikhail Fokine invited Elna Hansen to New York. She was followed by Harald Lander, Paul Haakon, Nina Stroganova, and Nina Theilade, lured by the prospect of broadening their skills with modern techniques. In the following decades, American choreographers, including Balanchine, Ailey, Beatty, and others brought their work and modern influences to Copenhagen, the greatest influence coming from John Neumeier.

But the spark that ignited the passion of American audiences for Danish ballet was not touched off until 1954, when the Royal Danish Ballet performed at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts to enthusiastic audiences. In 1956 the Royal Danish Ballet performed at the Metropolitan Opera House, and on the same tour in a Washington, D.C. performance attended by President Eisenhower and King Frederik and Queen Ingrid of Denmark. In 1957 prima ballerina Inge Sand brought fellow Danes with her on a tour of the U.S. This success was followed by a U.S. tour in 1960 that opened in San Francisco with Frederick Ashton's Romeo and Juliet.

San Francisco Ballet's Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has an important connection with Danish ballet. Tomasson was trained in Iceland by Danes Lisa Kaeregaard and Erik Bidsted. He also trained in Copenhagen and danced in Tivoli. According to Aschengreen, it was Jerome Robbins and Erik Bruhn who convinced Tomasson to go to the U.S., where, among other accomplishments, he danced with New York City Ballet in the original cast of Bournonville Divertisements in 1977.

José Manuel Carreño to Hold Class in San Francisco

Bay Area male ballet dancers and students will have the opportunity to take a master class with legendary Cuban ballet star José Manuel Carreño. Formerly a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, Carreño is currently Artistic Director of Ballet San Jose. He will teach a master class on Sunday, March 15, at ODC Dance Commons in San Francisco.

San Francisco Ballet Announces New Souvenier Book

San Francisco Ballet has announced the release of the "Look Book". The large-format souvenir book is illustrated with full-color photographs of Company dancers by Erik Tomasson, photos of dancers in the studios and in performances.

For more information: www.sfballet.org/lookbook

Yannick Boquin to be Guest Teacher at San Francisco Ballet School

San Francisco Ballet School has announced a new guest teacher, Yannick Boquin, will teach advanced students from February 23-March 7. Trained in Paris, Boquin has been a principal dancer with Bonn Opera Ballet, Royal Ballet of Flanders, Rome Opera Ballet, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. He has been a guest teacher at Bolshoi Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Australian Ballet, Nederland Dans Theater, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Paris Opéra Ballet, Finnish Opera Ballet, Dresden Semper Oper, Cullberg Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, and Houston Ballet.

Apollon Musagetes (1931) Else Hojgaard, Margot Florentz Gerhard (later Lander), Gertrud Iversen, and Leif Ornberg (Peter Martins' uncle). Photo by Huset Mydtskov.


Ballet in Copenhagen continued to be exposed to a list of American choreographers and dance companies , among them New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Martha Graham, and San Francisco Ballet. Celebrated American dancers with the Royal Danish Ballet have included Bruce Marks, Caroline Cavallo, and Amy Watson, to mention a few. Esteemed Danish dancers performing with American companies have included Toni Lander, Erik Bruhn, and Peter Martins.

Today the repertory of the RDB includes works by many American choreographers, including Balanchine, Tharp, Limón, Taylor, Lubovitch, Tudor, Marks, Robbins, Martins, Forsythe, etc., etc.

Dancing Across the Atlantic: USA–Denmark 1900-2014is generously illustrated with wonderful photographs, some rare, of dancers and performances going as far back in time as the 1920's. The book includes indexes of names, ballet titles, and photographers, and a list of ballets by American choreographers in the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet. A shortcoming is the lack of an index that includes dance companies.

Browsing this book is a wonderfully informative and visually pleasing experience, worthy of a place in the collection of any serious admirer of ballet.


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Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 9:17 PM