Discovering Dance in Denmark


When I was 19, I moved to Copenhagen to study abroad for a year. At that age, everything is a revelation and so it was with the Royal Danish Ballet. I remember biking through skinny cobblestone streets to see the company at the Royal Theater, which sits next to Nyhavn, the colorful storybook harbor where Hans Christian Anderson once lived. I went often; it was the start of a dance diet that has stuck.

The Royal Danish Ballet’s identity was formed by the teachings and choreography of August Bournonville in the middle decades of the 19th century, and a highlight reel of sorts was on display at the Joyce this week by principals and soloists of the company. The style is generous and joyful – these dancers’ smiles felt more genuine than most in ballet. There’s a satisfying sense of constant motion, of strong and shifting breezes. It’s warm and chivalrous, and if I had to make a connection between Bournonville’s ballet and the Danish ethos, I’d go with humility. The company has a diverse repertory with a dark, adventurous side that I missed here. Still, it felt like a visit from an old friend.