Royal Danish Ballet School

By Hardy, Camille | Pointe, April/May 2005 | Go to article overview

Royal Danish Ballet School


Hardy, Camille, Pointe


For nearly 300 years, the Royal Danish Ballet School has been part of an exceptional world all its own.

Unlike stage doors in the rest of the world, the entrance for artists and students of the Royal Danish Ballet School at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a bronze sculpture that springs open when someone approaches. The Danish expressionist Svend Wiig Hansen created the magical portal that leads into a selfcontained world of ballet training and performance all under one roof.

On the ground level, along with a cafeteria, is an atrium, which houses parrots and exotic birds for the opera. High up on a floor that looks down on the city's chimney pots is a sunny studio where apprentices are coached in the technique of August Bournonville (1805-79), the great 19th-century choreographer who believed that ballet dancers should be well-educated and respected in society-even as national treasures.

Here, ballet hopefuls, ages 7 to 11, audition annually in March. Former Royal Danish Ballet ballerina Anne Marie Vessel has headed the school since 1988. "While I loved performing, training young dancers is a challenge with wonderful rewards that we share with the company's audiences," Vessel says. On four Saturdays in January and February, she and the RDBS faculty help prepare youngsters for their auditions with a program called Ballet Greenhouse. Free classes introduce children to material that will be part of the audition and allow them to meet teachers and medical professionals who conduct the examination. Anyone can participate in this process. Each potential student is evaluated medically for proportion, strength and flexibility. The entire faculty and Frank Andersen, RDB artistic director, review the potential placement and development of every auditionee. Once accepted into the RDBS, students receive instruction free of charge.

The school enrolls some 70 students. While the schedule is adjusted to suit developmental and repertoire needs, classes are generally divided into seven levels, with seven being the most advanced for boys and girls 12 to 16. Dancers begin a typical day with ballet class at 8:30 am. Liselotte Sand and Henriette Brendsholm teach the youngest, who sometimes also have classes with Vessel. Mime sessions are with Flemming Ryberg and Lis Jeppesen. Some classes are mixed-gender, but the 16-year-olds attend separate classes for girls and boys, with girls focusing on pointework and boys concentrating on turns and batterie. At 16, those who pass the rigorous final exam become RDB apprentices.

Training at present focuses on Danish technique in preparation for the Bournonville Festival to be held June 3-11, 2005, in Copenhagen. Normally, however, a broad international spectrum is reflected in the repertoire and in the classroom, where a Vaganova-Cecchetti-Volkova base provides elements for a new syllabus now in development. "I want our dancers to be fluent in Bournonville and to embrace classical and modern styles from around the world," Andersen says.

Student evaluation is ongoing and formal reviews occur midyear and at the close of the season in June. Jury members for the final exam sit at a long table covered with a green cloth (green is the symbol for "hope" in Denmark). …

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