Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy Norwegian National Ballet.

From Dancer to Director: Norwegian National Ballet's Ingrid Lorentzen

One of the first things you notice about Ingrid Lorentzen is her laugh—the Norwegian National Ballet director exudes warmth. It's obvious why, in 2012, she was appointed for the job, despite the fact that she was a leading dancer at NNB with little management experience. But Lorentzen knew it wouldn't all be smooth sailing. "I started my first speech by telling the company: 'I'm going to disappoint you all,' " she remembers with a chuckle.

That lucidity, along with her open-minded philosophy, has contributed to lifting the profile of Norway's national company, founded in 1958. As director, Lorentzen has challenged her 65 dancers with boundary-pushing new productions, from Alexander Ekman's water-filled A Swan Lake to ballets based on Scandinavian plays. Programmers have taken notice: This creative vibe and NNB's close relationship with Jirˇří Kylián have led to a series of international engagements.


Kylián's "Falling Angels." Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy NNB.


Lorentzen has drawn diverse talent, from Cuban stars Yolanda Correa and Osiel Gouneo to American standouts like Melissa Hough and Whitney Jensen. "When I first spoke to Ingrid, I was astonished at how personable she was," says Hough.

The 45-year-old director was a maverick from a young age. Born in a small Norwegian town, she didn't go into pre-professional training until the age of 16. Less than a year later, she told the director of Oslo's National Academy of the Arts that the classical training wasn't strong enough—and moved to the Royal Swedish Ballet School.

After an apprenticeship with the Norwegian National Ballet, Lorentzen went freelance, performing in theater projects and ultimately joining a Swedish contemporary company, Skånes Dansteater. "It shaped my philosophy: I want dancers who can stand out but be part of a collective," says Lorentzen.

Later, she auditioned for NNB four times before she was hired. "They weren't sure about my height, my age." But in three years, she was promoted to the top rank, soloist.

When company director Espen Giljane left in 2012, the general director of the Norwegian Opera urged Lorentzen to apply. By then, she'd taken a seat on the Arts Council Norway, which implements cultural policy. "I said no originally," she remembers. The search committee insisted, and Lorentzen's status as a former-outsider-turned-team-player worked in her favor. "I've seen the company from the inside, but also from the other side, having danced in other theaters."


Ingrid Lorentzen. Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy NNB.

Lorentzen accepted, hung up her pointe shoes and set out to find a balance between three pillars in the repertoire: the classics, especially traditional full-lengths; international masters, like Kylián; and creations.

As she had warned her company, there were bumps in the road. Her first program in 2013 was five world premieres inspired by Michel Fokine. "It was a huge success," says Lorentzen, "but that's the moment the dancers said, 'We have no confidence in you.' " The boundary-pushing program fazed them. "They weren't happy."

Lorentzen's response was more communication. "In Norway, you have to get the company with you, because you can't fire anyone," she explains. Social protection is very high: Dancers are on permanent contracts, and retire with a pension at 41. Benefits such as maternity leave are generous. "Here I began thinking about my life as a whole, not just as my dancer self," says Hough, who previously danced with Boston Ballet and Houston Ballet.

To balance out that security, Lorentzen believes in a degree of artistic insecurity. There are only two ranks, corps and soloist, and all dancers have to audition for parts.


Norwegian National Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy NNB.

New evening-length narrative ballets, a particular focus for Lorentzen, have ranged from Liam Scarlett's Carmen to an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler by theater director Marit Moum Aune, premiering September 28.

Lorentzen has also commissioned company dancers, including Hough, who was part of Sleepless Beauty, an evening of creations by women. Last season, 8 out of the 17 choreographers featured were female. "The lack of balance is so depressing," Lorentzen says. "I thought, Let's stop talking, let's just do."

With stable government funding and a new opera house, opened in 2008, the future is bright. In 2015, Lorentzen launched the Norwegian National Ballet 2, which also affords its dancers full salaries. More than a third of the main company members hail from Norway, and Lorentzen is building closer ties with the affiliated National Academy.

Now with the full confidence of her company, her contract has been extended through 2022. Hough pays tribute to Lorentzen's positive management style. "Ingrid has taught me I can be honest without fear," she says. "I have learned to own who I am as an artist and person."


Ibsen's "Ghost." Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy NNB.


At a Glance

Norwegian National Ballet

Number of dancers: 65

Length of contract: Year-round, permanent

Starting salary: Around $56,000 ($49,000 for NNB2)

Performances per year: Around 100

Website: operaen.no/en


Audition Advice

Open auditions are currently only held for Norwegian National Ballet 2. In addition to one in Norway every year, Lorentzen takes part in the Grand Audition, the multi-company audition held in Barcelona (the next one is scheduled for February 6–7, 2018). "I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," she says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way." She'll occasionally invite applicants for the main company to take class.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

How Can I Stay Motivated While Training at Home?

Ethan Ahuero was having a good year: he was in his first season dancing with Kansas City Ballet II and had been presented with the opportunity to choreograph on the second company. "The day before we shut down I had a rehearsal, and I was so happy," Ahuero says. "The piece was coming together and this was the first time I felt really proud of my creative process."

Suddenly, the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a halt. With the company's season cut short and the studios closed, Ahuero found himself attempting to continue dancing from home, with his choreography project put on hold. Like many other dancers around the world, Ahuero is dealing with disappointment while struggling to stay motivated.

Keeping up with daily ballet classes may feel difficult right now; inspiration can seem hard to come by when you're following along on Zoom and short on space at home. Below are a few simple tips for finding new ways to stay motivated.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
THE GINGERB3ARDMEN, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary Ballet

How Jillian Davis Created Her Own Path to Complexions and Learned to Believe in Herself

It's impossible to miss Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Jillian Davis onstage. Tall and glamorous, her commanding stage presence, luxurious movement quality and intuitive musicality have made her one of the company's standout stars. But her road to Complexions was anything but linear. The 6'2" dancer worked tirelessly over several years to find her place in the dance world, ultimately reinventing herself and creating her own path to success. At a time when many early career dancers may be facing uncertainty, her story shows the power of resiliency.

Davis grew up on a dairy farm in Kutzstown, Pennsylvania, where she studied dance at a local studio and in the Philadelphia area, and took private lessons at home. She also started growing, shooting up seven inches over one summer. At 13, she and her family decided to take her daily training up a notch, commuting 100 miles each way to the Princeton Dance & Theater Studio, where she studied under Risa Kaplowitz and Susan Jaffe. By then she was already 5'7", and she soon realized—especially as she started learning how to partner—that her height might be an issue if she wanted to dance ballet professionally.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Tulsa Ballet in Ma Cong's Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music. Kate Luber Photography, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Updated: Mark Your Calendars for These Online Ballet Performances

Updated on 5/21/2020

Since COVID-19 has forced ballet companies around the world to cancel performances—and even the remainder of their seasons—many are keeping their audiences engaged by streaming or posting pre-recorded performances onto their websites or social media channels. To help keep you inspired during these challenging times, we've put together a list of upcoming streaming events and digital performances.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks