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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.

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.

Ballet San Jose: Raise $550,000 in 10 Days or Shut Down

Will Rebrand as Silicon Valley Ballet

March 4, 2015. Artistic Director José Manuel Carreño of Ballet San Jose announced today that his company faces closure without donations totaling $550,000 by March 14. The closure would include its ballet school and its educational outreach programs.

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José Manuel Carreño
Photo credit: Courtesy Ballet San Jose

Carreño, a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre who succeeded Dennis Nahat as Artistic Director, is known for bringing new works and new life into the company's repertoire. "Silicon Valley deserves the best and our dancers have superhuman talent," he said.

The company's Board Chair Millicent Powers stated,“We’re asking everyone to invest in the future of this community by supporting this campaign. It will pay huge dividends for today and for the future.”

Since 2013, the company's Board of Trustees has planned an update of the company's business model in preparation for future needs, and has invested over $2.7 million for implementation of their strategic plan. This year the company recognized they would need $3.5 million to complete the plan by the opening of the 2015 season. In the first phase of transition this year, the Ballet raised more than half a million dollars in cash to fund operations. In this second phase of fundraising, called “Bridge to the Future”, the public is being asked to donate $550,000 by March 14 to raise the critical funds that will allow the Ballet to continue to operate. The third phase, “Fund for the Future”, plans to move the company to a stable and strategic long-term funding model to reduce expenses. The six-month Phase 3 campaign will launch publicly in April.

In an obvious appeal to the hi-tech corporate cash flow in the region, the company's strategic plan includes rebranding the company as Silicon Valley Ballet, effective September of this year.

Donations can be made online at: balletsj.org/bridge.html.

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


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
Michael W. Phelan:email
Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2015 9:44 PM