After a few days in the Bournonville intensive, OBT Soloist Candace Bouchard drops a line updating us on what the program so far has been like:
Yesterday, we were let out early, as people are typically the most sore on the third day of the program. While the schedule is actually less dancing than a typical day at OBT, the difference in style is a little hard on the lower legs, not to mention the fact that we’ve already been on a break since the end of May! We spent the afternoon touring the Court Theater Museum where Bournonville created most of his ballets and occasionally performed himself. The tour finished with all of us on the stage dancing the port de bras combination from the Bournonville class we’re learning, looking into the King’s Boxes on either side of the audience as we turned our heads.
Each day here begins with a basic barre, led by Eva Kloborg, former Principal Dancer and current Principal Character Artist with Royal Danish Ballet. Frank Andersen and Anne Marie Vessel-Schlüter also help with giving corrections throughout the class. All three of them are with us all day long, which is unusual. Typically, just one person leads classes and rehearsals, or perhaps both a choreographer and a ballet master will be in a rehearsal together. Having three experts available at all times to answer questions and offer corrections is helpful, but a little intimidating!
After our warm-up at the barre, we move to the center to work on Bournonville’s Wednesday class. There are six set Bournonville classes, one for each day of the week (and Sunday to rest), but the combinations are so long and complex, we’re taking this whole week to hopefully learn just one class. This is really different than the way classes are taught in most techniques, with each individual teacher creating new combination of steps all the time. For me, the hardest thing to pick up are the head positions. We rarely angle our heads to look under our arms now, but it’s a hallmark of the Romantic Era. The head is heavy, and putting it in an unfamiliar direction can make you feel a little like you’re going to fall over, until you figure out all the other little adjustments to make! There’s also a heavy emphasis on staying on balance, displayed in the pirouette combinations where you end a turn on one leg and immediately either relevé or jump off that leg. If you aren’t perfectly in control and lined up, you can’t get off the ground!
After this hour and forty-five minute class, we move on to an hour and forty-five minutes of repertoire. We’re learning the pas de sept for four women and five men from Bournonville’s 1854 “Folk Tale”. It’s a really pleasant ballet, with an opening section for all the dancers, a number of short variations for individual men and women and one for three ladies, as well as a couple of lovely pas de deuxs. We didn’t learn much on Monday, presumably to let us dip our toes in the style without getting so frustrated and overwhelmed that we just didn’t come back for the rest of the week, but we’ve been moving along well since then.
After lunch, we spend time working on mime, which is not so commonly done in the U.S. now. We learn the gestures specific to each story ballet as we perform them, but I’ve never spent so much time diving into what they all mean and the exact way to hold your fingers and the proper path of the arm. It’s funny how a mime sequence can take me much longer to learn than a complicated chain of steps in a variation!
We typically end the day with a lecture on Bournonville’s life and a viewing of a section of one of his ballet’s. Monday we got to see a video of the 3rd Act of “Napoli” with all of our teachers performing the leading roles, which was, of course, very special.
It’s great to be so immersed in the style and to see the cultural landmarks that influenced Bournonville when he was making ballets. We all feel so lucky to have this experience!