OBT soloist Candace Bouchard returns home and shares a few final thoughts on the dancers’ whirlwind tour of Denmark!
Now that I’m back in Portland and have (mostly) recovered from the jet lag, I can reflect a little on what our time in Copenhagen meant to me. Most of what I’m thinking of is how grateful I am to have seen Denmark first hand, especially since so much of what was there when Bournonville was creating ballets still stands. I felt immersed in the style, both in and out of the studio, as if I could really experience the culture that produced this art and, therefore, understand better how to bring it to life.
From my perspective, Danes are pleasant and somewhat reserved, both today and in the Golden Age of the mid-19th century when Bournonville was active. Life seems enjoyable and getting through the day is done with ease and a small smile. Denmark enjoys a rich history, from Viking ancestry through centuries of monarchy, led by benevolent (if occasionally insane) rulers – up until King Frederick VII agreed to establish a constitutional monarchy in 1849, avoiding the bloody revolutions seen in other parts of Europe. Though the monarch is now a figurehead with no inherent political power, our history expert for the week, Ole Norlyng, explained to us that having a Queen keeps some old traditions alive and reminds us that fairy tales can be true.
I was often struck by the honest telling of historical facts when they weren’t necessarily flattering. Be it that the Christiansborg Palace burned down twice, likely for the same reason each time, or that this naval war ship was decommissioned because the crew accidentally shot a missile at a Danish beach colony, or that Bournonville’s ballets weren’t very well-received by Viennese crowds when he tried to present them there; the facts were just presented without any attempt to spin them to protect anyone’s pride. Even this direct manner comes through in the dancing. It isn’t about egotistical bravura, or competing to do the most pirouettes or getting your leg above your head all the time. It’s about beautiful steps presented straightforwardly in interesting combinations that complement the music.
Of course, I have to mention the Danish concept of hygge. It can be summed up as creating a warm atmosphere to enjoy the good things in life with family and friends. While the high season for hygge comes with the long, dark days of winter, I think we experienced plenty of moments of it, even in the summer. Rounds of drinks and sharing our thoughts from the day at a cafe that sits right on the waters of the canal; a fantastic long dinner and meandering conversation with our hosts, complete with house-made schnapps; spending an evening strolling through the gardens of Tivoli, riding surprisingly frightening rides and laughing together…
All these moments seemed to be a part of this concept of hygge, and it brings me to one conclusion I’ve made. While Danish ballet in the time of Bournonville seems light years away from the American ballet of Balanchine in the mid-20th Century that most dancers in the U.S. would consider a pillar of our training and style, I think the basic ideas nestle in perfectly with the Pacific Northwest. Portlanders forgo the flash and speed of New York in favor of a pleasant lifestyle spent enjoying our stunning surroundings. We are known for being overly humble and content with what we have. Our stories can take on a bit of fairy tale magic, though we don’t need a queen to make us believe; just a walk through a Northwest forest can do that. Denmark may sit at a slightly higher latitude, but our winter days are also pretty long and dark, and I think we’ve developed our own brand of hygge here. That cozy feeling, the value placed on spending quality time with quality people and quality food, that idea resonates with Portlanders (or this particular Portlander, at least). It makes me think the ballets of August Bournonville will resonate in Portland, as well.