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Raising the Barre: Bournonville

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ABT’s Raising the Barre Weekend Workshop focused on the tradition, style, technique, and heritage of Danish choreographer August Bournonville. The workshop took place at ABT’s studios in New York City from May 25-26, 2019. Cynthia Harvey, ABT’s National Training Curriculum & Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School Artistic Director, hosted classes, demonstrations, and discussions alongside three generations of the Bournonville lineage: Dinna Bjørn, one of the few distinguished Bournonville specialists in the ballet world today; Petrusjka Broholm, Principal Teacher for the ABT JKO School Pre-Professional Division and former Royal Danish Ballet Soloist; Alban Lendorf, former ABT Principal Dancer and former Royal Danish Ballet Principal.

August Bournonville (1805-1879), his training, and his choreography, are considered the bridge between the old style of dancing that reaches back to the days of Louis XIV and the dancing styles of today, according to Dance Historian Allison Eggers. “Bournonville received his ballet training at a time that was very formative, in the years just before the emergence of Romantic ballet, before the male danseur was relegated to being a porteur for the ballerina.” In Paris, Bournonville studied with Auguste Vestris, a man who blended the three genres of ballet (noble, demi-caractère, and grotesque) into one curriculum of dancing. Bournonville took Vestris’s system back to Denmark and choreographed over fifty ballets, including more than a dozen that still exist today. These ballets include La Sylphide, Napoli, The Conservatory, and the Flower Festival at Genzano pas de deux. Eggers said, “While the rest of European ballet advanced toward greater virtuosity and ‘steel-toed’ pointe work, Bournonville maintained the quality of the older training in his choreography throughout his career.” After Bournonville’s death, several of his students and dancers codified his training methods. From this foundation, the Bournonville schools were born.

“The beauty of our Raising the Barre Weekend Workshops is seeing and experiencing the inspiration derived from experts whom we bring in for the event,” said Harvey. “There is something special about seeing knowledge passed down from one generation to the next.” Lendorf was a student of Broholm, who had studied with Bjørn. The bond between the instructors based on their shared heritage, was evident. “Dinna (Bjørn) was only three generations from Bournonville,” said Harvey. “A highlight of the weekend for me was listening to Dinna Bjørn speak about her heritage and realizing that Alban Lendorf is merely six generations in a direct line from Bournonville. It gave me goosebumps to know that this important heritage was sitting in the room with us and passing on their knowledge!”

Students of the participating teachers also had the opportunity to attend the Weekend Workshop. Student classes included dance history, technique, variations, and mime. “For me, it was amazing to share the style with both teachers and students, since it is for two different purposes,” said Broholm. She said that teachers find that sharing the specific steps is a good way to gain strength, musicality, coordination. Broholm described the experience, which included an introduction of the style and some brain-teasers, as “a little like being at a ballet playground for [the students].” Her demonstration of mime passes from La Sylphide helped students use their imagination and reinforce the idea that ballet is more than just steps and technique. “They also have to be artists,” said Broholm. “In all the classes, repertory, and mime, I was again was reminded of how much this style offers.”

Teachers travelled from various parts of the United States, Brazil, and Canada to attend the workshop. ABT and Gugulethu Ballet Project ( sponsored the attendance of two fourteen-year-old students from South Africa, Aphiwe November and Chuma Mathiso. Gugulethu Ballet Project is run by former ABT Soloist Kristine Elliott, and has a mission to bring the art of classical ballet to the youth of South Africa’s townships. The boys experienced their first airplane ride and their first exposure to Bournonville. November reflected upon the experience: “What I loved about the workshop was the special exercises just for boys. I learned so much about the Bournonville style, how it started, and how it spread around the world.”


More information on ABT’s Raising the Barre Weekend Workshops:

More information on the National Training Curriculum: