In Ballet, There Is Nothing Like a Dane

"The Danes get around," observes Jeppe Mydtskov, the latest member or trainee of the Royal Danish Ballet to join an American company.

Following the pattern of the 1970s--when Peter Martins, Adam Luders and Ib Andersen forsook Copenhagen to become leading lights of New York City Ballet, and Peter Schaufuss became a globe-trotting international star--Mydtskov and a number of other Royal Danish Ballet men have set out to broaden their horizons.

New York City Ballet, where Martins is now in charge of day-to-day artistic policy (and where his son Nilas dances in the corps), is, naturally, the mecca towards which many of these men set their sights. Also luring Danes are other companies whose repertories feature a good selection of Balanchine works, such as Northwest Ballet.

Twenty-two-year-old Thordal Christensen is in his second season with the Seattle company and was recently made a soloist, and Bjarne Hecht, who performed leading roles when the Danish company last toured this country in 1982, has just joined the same troupe as a soloist.

Danes have been finding their way to Texas as well. Flemming Flindt, artistic director of the Danish company from 1966 to 1978, now heads the Dallas Ballet, whose roster includes Danish dancer Jacob Spaarse.

Fort Worth Ballet, with close ties to New York City Ballet and a good deal of Balanchine in its repertory, has also played host to Danes. Mydtskov danced there last season, performing major roles in Balanchine's "Raymonda Variations" and "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet," before joining New York City Ballet. Hecht also recently guested there, staging Bournonville's "Napoli" third act and dancing in Balanchine's "Agon."

These young Danes are a bright, articulate group, self-aware and knowledgeable about the ballet world past and present. Most of them, whether or not they remain in Denmark, visit New York frequently, keeping up with the dance scene and often studying with the School of American Ballet's Danish teacher, Stanley Williams.

"I think they're developing faster than we did," remarks Arne Villumsen, at 35 the Royal Danish Ballet's current leading male dancer. "Maybe they are more ambitious, and more aware, than we were at that time."

For some of these young dancers, the very system and traditions that have nurtured generations of dancers in Copenhagen and made the Royal Danish Ballet one of the world's great companies contribute to the impulse to get out and explore. These dancers came to the school at ages ranging from 6 to 9, and followed an uninterrupted course through its ranks.

"By the time I left, at 19, I had been in the school and the theater for 13 years, and I needed to get away," explains lanky Thordal Christensen. "I had to see something else, get some new inspiration, work in a different environment."

A similar restlessness and curiosity led 18-year-old Kenneth Greve, a tall, princely Dane who was a finalist in last June's New York International Ballet Competition, to forsake the stability of the Royal Danish Ballet contract he was offered and opt for a less secure position as a New York City Ballet apprentice.

Hecht recalls that he also had offers to leave when he was 19 and about to sign his company contract. "In a way, I'm glad I didn't," he says. "I feel I have a stronger background now. It can be a little dangerous to leave when you're straight out of the school, without any real stage experience."

Mydtskov, very tall and a member of a family with a long history of photographing the Royal Danish Ballet, felt compelled to leave Denmark at 18 because of a lack of motivation. "It just wasn't a good environment for me to work in," he notes, admitting that he was a sloppy and lazy dancer in his early years.

Lack of motivation can be a problem in a company where once a dancer is hired, his job is secure until the age of 48. The ambitious ones, eager for roles, give their all, while a majority is content to go through their paces and make things comfortable for themselves.

Nikolaj Hubbe, at 19 already an accomplished danseur who has danced roles such as Romeo, a lead in "Etudes" and, this month, Gennaro in the full-length "Napoli," has been kept sufficiently challenged in Copenhagen and expresses great enthusiasm about his repertory. He has, however, observed the malaise that can afflict some of his colleagues.

"Often people get away with things that they might not get away with in other companies. We're nursed a lot in Copenhagen, and since it is so comfortable, you can develop a laid-back attitude."

For Mydtskov, it was necessary to break away--in his case, to Germany's Frankfurt Ballet, in order to find his self-discipline as a dancer. His goal was always to dance with Balanchine's company. His summer stints taking occasional City Ballet company classes and the six months he has been with the company have convinced him that "this environment produces better dancers."

"You know you have to work harder; a lot more is left up to you, and it's more challenging. It makes you want to be better, since you feel a certain amount of trust is being put in you."

Mydtskov also remarked that Frank Andersen, the Royal Danish Ballet's artistic director since 1985, seems to be giving the current crop of dancers more freedom, trying to ensure their contentment so they will be less eager to depart.

In the case of Alexander Kolpin, the 22-year-old Danish dancer who has emerged along with Hubbe as an exceptionally talented and personable performer, Andersen has encouraged and facilitated outside engagements.

Kolpin, who also makes his debut as Gennaro in "Napoli" this month, is making several guest appearances with the Basel Ballet, and in March he will perform leading roles in "Etudes" and "Napoli" with the Boston Ballet.

Even those in self-imposed exile acknowledge their fondness for the Royal Danish Ballet and admiration for its stature.

"It's a wonderful company, a wonderful place to grow up, and I'm very thankful that I was there," remarks Christensen. And Peter Bo Bendixen, 22, now in his second season with John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet after being featured in many Bournonville parts as well as the title role of the 1985 "Hamlet" that Neumeier set on the Danes, says it has always been his intention to return to Copenhagen:

"I love the company, but I feel it's very important for everyone to go out and try other things--and then bring something valuable back home."

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