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The Storied History Between Royal Danish Ballet and Jacob's Pillow Continues This Week

Ulrik Birkkjaer and Susanne Grinder in Bournonville's Napoli." Photo by Costin Radu, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow Dance.

On June 20, Royal Danish Ballet will open the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival with a weeklong run in the historic Ted Shawn Theatre. The celebrated relationship between the Copenhagen-based company and the Pillow dates back to 1954, when leading RDB soloist Inge Sand stepped in to replace a dancer from another company at the last minute, resulting in her U.S. debut. Her popularity led to the company's inaugural U.S. performance at the festival the next summer. According to the Pillow's director of preservation, Norton Owen, this was also the first time that works by August Bournonville, the famed 19th-century Danish choreographer, were seen in this country. Following its success at Jacob's Pillow, RDB made its New York City debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1956, and in 1957 the King of Denmark knighted Jacob's Pillow founder Ted Shawn for his role in bringing Danish ballet to America. Over the next 20 years, soloists from RDB returned to the Berkshires frequently to great acclaim; their most recent visit was in 2007.


RDB artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe has his own connection to the Pillow: In the summer of 1985, he attended The School at Jacob's Pillow on scholarship. He remembers the experience as completely eye-opening. "I even took my first Balanchine class," says the former New York City Ballet principal.

Royal Danish dancers with Ted Shawn (center) at Jacob's Pillow in 1961. Photo by John Lindquist © Harvard Theatre Collection, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow Dance.


What's on the program for this season? RDB leading principals and soloists will dance excerpts from Swan Lake and Giselle, as well as the pas de deux from former RDB artistic director Harald Lander's Dvorak, but Bournonville will be the main event. The programming includes sections from La Sylphide, The Kermesse in Bruges, A Folk Tale and Napoli. "The generosity of his steps makes his choreographic legacy so unique," says Hübbe. "He's a lovely travel companion."

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