#DancerDose – August Bournonville
February 8th, 2020 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
August Bournonville was the director of the Royal Danish Ballet for nearly 50 years. His impact and influence on the Danish style of dance continues to live on today as others continue to utilize the bravura dancing and expressive style Bournonville established.
Dancing In His Blood
Bournonville was born on August 21st 1805 in Copenhagen Denmark. Dancing is in his blood as his father, Antoine Bournonville was a major Danish dancer prior to his birth. Being as such, Bournonville was eager to study under his father for many years before going to Paris for further training. Working alongside Auguste Vestris and Pierre Gardel, Bournonville was able to understand the stylistic differences between Paris and home. Implementing the varying styles led Bournonville to become successful immediately as he appeared as a dance frothe Paris Opera and London Ballet. Despite his understanding of these differences, Bournonville couldn’t help but feel reminiscent of his original Danish style. He eventually returned to Copenhagen to take on work as a soloist and choreographer while implementing the works he used abroad along with his father’s teachings.
Eventually, Bournonville’s solo work paid off as he was invited to choreograph for the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1836 he choreographed his own take on La Sylphide, a ballet originally by Filippo Taglioni. Bournonville’s own pupil and protege Lucile Grahn performed in the lead role and found major success. Many of the ballet’s Bournonville went on to choreograph were inspired by his own travels or his own studies as a young boy. His work Napoli was inspired by a trip to Italy while his other work Burges was reminiscent of his deep-rooted interest in Flemish art. From Siveria to Msocow was used to represent his own personal trip to Russia whereas his ballets set in Spain used works from a variety of cities and cultures to create a cohesive Spanish tale. One of his most notable works, Konservatoriet, is known as being the only surviving ballet to show classical dance exercises that were practiced in the classroom in the early 19th century.
Bournonville established himself as being a strong dancer and an accomplished mime, all of which shone through his ballets. His choreographic approach was intended to reflect the teachings of his father as well as the pre-Romantic teachings of Vestris. Directing for the Royal Danish Ballet for nearly half a century, Bournonville was able to create long-lasting works that well preceded his life and the lives of those who were instructed and inspired by him. Throughout the mid 1800s, Bournonville created works for other balcompanies as well, including the Swedish Royal Opera and various companies in Vienna. After dedicating his life to dance, in 1877 Bournonville retired in Denmark and was knighted for his hard work and dedication to the dance community.
In 1979, on the 100th anniversary of Bournonville’s death, the Royal Danish Ballet honored his memory and contribution to the dance industry by presenting a week long Bournonville Festival in Copehnagen. The festival included performances of all of his existing ballets, lecture demonstration programs, art exhibits and special publications of Bournonville‘s techniques. The festival was a gigantic success and dancers and scholars came from around the world to celebrate Bournonville’s work and his strong contribution to the art community as a whole.
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Casey Eggers is a writer for StarQuest. She loves coffee, music, and running long distance.