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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.

Carlo Di Lanno, SFB Soloist, Wins Erik Bruhn Prize

On March 24, San Francisco Ballet Soloist Carlo Di Lanno was named a winner of the Eleventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize.

Di Lanno danced a pas de deux from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty for the classical section and Frayed, a new work by SF Ballet Corps de Ballet Dancer Myles Thatcher, for the contemporary section with San Francisco Ballet Corps de Ballet MemberWanTing Zhao.

The competition was held at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. Di Lanno and Fischer each receive a cash prize of $7,500 and a sculpture by Jack Culiner. Boston Ballet's Yury Yanowsky won the Choreographic Prize for his new work District. He receives a sculpture by Jack Culiner and a cash prize of $2,000.

Participating companies included Boston Ballet, The Hamburg Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, The Royal Danish Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Artistic directors from each of the competing companies served as judges, including San Francisco Balletís Helgi Tomasson. For more information, visit http://national.ballet.ca/Media-Room/News/Winners-Announced-for-The-Erik-Bruhn-Prize

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.

BayDance © 1998 Michael W. Phelan. All photographs in BayDance retain the copyright of the respective dance company and photographer.BayArea.com Site of the Week
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Last modified: Monday, March 30, 2015 9:34 PM