Johan Kobborg: Vibrant Virtuoso
Trucco, Terry, Dance Magazine
Seated in the dramatic, mirrored u lobby of Manhattan's Royalton Hotel, Johan Kobborg, Royal Danish Ballet's latest white-hot virtuoso, manages to look both at ease and a bit amused by designer Philippe Starck's chic High-Eighties surroundings. Dressed in head-to-toe black, from his bulky sweater to his snug jeans, he blends in nicely in a room where black seems the only color knowledgeable patrons would dream of wearing. He's quietly striking, with his wide-set, Nordic blue eyes, sculpted jaw and collar-caressing blond hair. Around his neck, an antique Russian cross flashes silver.
"It's my good-luck cross," he says, handling it fondly.
Kobborg feels he's been unusually lucky so far during his brief but dazzling career, and at first glance it's hard to disagree. He didn't enter the Royal Danish Ballet School until what, by ballet standards, was the near-geriatric age of sixteen. Just one year later, in 1989, he was invited to join the ninety-member company as an apprentice. By 1993 he was a much-featured soloist. And last year, at a mere twenty-two, Johan Kobborg became one of the first dancers to be promoted to principal by Peter Schaufuss, RDB's new artistic director.
As Kobborg tells it, his luck kicked into high gear with the company's 1992 Bournonville Festival, a weeklong celebration of the great Danish choreographer's work. "I was the right age for many parts in Bournonville ballets," explains Kobborg, who won praise for everything from his Act III variations in Napoli to his pas de deux in Flower Festival in Genzano. "So many people from all over the world came to see us."
Those audiences, including a roster of influential critics, liked what they saw. Dance Magazine's Tobi Tobias declared Kobborg "a virtuoso so intoxicated with his own exuberance, you can't help grinning back at his seemingly spontaneous joy." And, relaying the buzz from festival enthusiasts, English critic Mary Clarke wrote, "Surely Johan Kobborg will be the company's next big male star."
Scrutinize Kobborg's career more closely, however, and it's clear that luck had less to do with his rapid rise than talent and, perhaps more important, old-fashioned hard work. The raw material was in place early on, from his magnificent jumps and pulse-quickening turns to his impeccable acting. But the precision, purity and utter lack of mannerism that define his dancing developed through considerable effort.
"I've had to work on getting it clean," Kobborg says. "I never had intense training, only two classes a week before I came to Copenhagen. My body wasn't shaped right to be a classical dancer. My muscles weren't really stretched out. And I wasn't very strong."
Along the way Kobborg perfected the classic Danish quality of making the hardest steps look utterly natural, as easy and elegant as can be. In short, his carefully honed technique rarely gets in the way of the dancing.
Kobborg credits his appetite for dance to his late arrival at the Royal Danish school. "If you're too young, it's all your parents pushing, and not really the children who have the desire," he says. "But since I came in so late, I was focused. I knew that I had to work 100 percent."
Kobborg's steely, if quiet, determination is well known in the company. "Johan's so focused," says Henriette Muus, a Royal Danish soloist and Kobborg's girlfriend (cast in the Flower Festival pas de deux four years ago, they've been together ever since). "He's always working after class, trying to do things better. He's very competitive with himself."
For an extra push, beginning in 1990 Kobborg signed up regularly for international ballet competitions and came away with a slew of awards, including the gold medal in the Erik Bruhn Competition in 1993 ("I was very pleased with that because Erik Bruhn was Danish," he says) and the grand prize at the First International Nureyev Ballet Competition in 1994. …