August Bournonville (1805-1879) is the calling card of The Royal Danish Ballet. He was born in Copenhagen and educated in the best French and Italian dancing traditions by his father, a French dancer, and the Italian, Vincenzo Galeotti, who was ballet master in Copenhagen from 1775 – 1816.
Bournonville became an elegant demi-caractére dancer, small and light with a beautiful jump and a great facility for mime. During the 1820’s he continued his training in Paris, the 19th- Century center for ballet, performed at the Paris Opera and later brought the refinement and grace of the French style back to Denmark. While this style later disappeared in France, it was preserved in Copenhagen.
Bournonville created a tradition for Danish male dancing of the highest virtuosity raising the Royal Danish Ballet to an international level of ability while giving it the unique national quality which remains to this day its distinctive characteristic.
With a few interruptions – in Vienna and Stockholm - Bournonville was ballet master in Copenhagen from 1830 – 1877. He staged nearly 50 ballets and numerous divertissements. Many of his works are still performed in a tradition that remains unbroken to this day. Thus, the Royal Danish Ballet possesses a greater number of ballets from the Romantic period than any other ballet company in the world. Among these are La Sylphide (1836), Napoli (1842), Le Conservatoire (1849), A Folk Tale (1854) and the pas de deux from The Flower Festival in Genzano (1854)
With a firm foundation in the Danish cultural tradition of the period – the Danish Romanticism – Bournonville maintained that art should be positive; its purpose was to elevate us and to make us into harmonious beings. This harmony is to be found not only in the stories and the happy endings of his ballets, but also in his style of beautiful proportions and delicate musical timing.
The Ballet School of The Royal Danish Ballet goes back to 1771 and is together with the School of the Paris Opera and the Ballet School in St. Petersburg among the oldest in the world.
From this school a great number of famous dancers have emerged. Many achieved international recognition like Lucile Grahn, who was the first to dance Bournovnille’s La Sylphide, Toni Lander, Erik Bruhn, Henning Kronstam, Flemming Flindt, Niels Kehlet, Peter Martins, Peter Schaufuss, Adam Lüders, Ib Andersen, Nilas Martins, Johan Kobborg, Nikolaj Hübbe, Kenneth Greve, Thomas Lund and many others.
The Royal Danish Ballet, however, does not dwell in the past. During the 20th Century, it evolved into a modern company performing the work of Danish choreographers Harald Lander (Etudes, 1948) and Flemming Flindt (The Lesson, 1963); but also important international choreographers. After the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet has the greatest number of Balanchine ballets in its repertoire in Europe. In addition, ballets by important choreographers of the day are danced by the Royal Danish Ballet including Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier as well as the young choreographers Tim Rushton, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. A speciality of the Royal Danish Ballet remains its highly prized story-telling ballets in continuation of the Bournonville tradition.
Adding to this the fact that the company also performs the great classics -- Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty -- it goes without saying that few other companies in the world can meet as many stylistic demands as the Royal Danish Ballet.