New Danish ballet chief at home with heritage

COPENHAGEN Fri Oct 5, 2007 11:41am EDT

COPENHAGEN (Reuters Life!) - Nikolaj Hubbe knows he will inherit a jealously guarded legacy when he takes over as artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet in July.

The 39-year-old former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet is already back in his native Copenhagen and working as a first instructor in preparation for his new role.

Hubbe, who considers himself a traditionalist, knows that he must seek to preserve Danish Ballet's heritage, while keeping an open mind to new ways of exploiting a rich inheritance that stretches back to mid 19th century Ballet Master August Bournonville.

"I think that within modern dance, classical ballet, there are still rich, rich possibilities. Things we are not even aware of yet. But we have to take our tradition and know it well enough. Know enough about it. And really base us on that, cement us in it in order to move ahead," Hubbe said.

Bournonville, who was appointed Ballet Master in 1830, amassed a treasure trove of works loved by ballet fans around the world who could view efforts to bring a fresh approach as sacrilege.

But Hubbe rejects any suggestion that change means he will seek to remodel the Danish Royal Ballet in the image of the kind of dance that he enjoyed during his 15 years as principal dancer in New York.

"If everything looks the same culturally all over the world, and it is already on its way to do, then all we need is one ballet company. Then nothing matters a damn," Hubbe said.

He says he wants to remain faithful to the Danish tradition of storytelling, but also dreams of exploring collaborations with theatre directors like Britain's Peter Brook and choreographers like Germany's Pina Bausch or Sweden's Mats Ek.

"I would so much like to have some of these big performance theatre people coming here to work with the ballet," he said. "I think that would be enormously stimulating."

THE DISCIPLINED CRAFTSMAN

Hubbe joined the Royal Danish Ballet School at the age of 10, became principal dancer of the company at the age of 20 and went on to join the New York City Ballet as principal dancer.

To Hubbe, ballet is a craft which must be nurtured with focus and discipline.

"Only by losing oneself in the craft, can you liberate yourself and raise your consciousness towards art," he said. "And there is therefore an enormously hard and bloody minded and, at times, hierarchically feudal discipline behind it all."

Hubbe was dismissive of the kind of commercial ventures which have seen some artists use their fame to brand trinkets, books, music, clothes and other products.

"One minute you're an actor, then you start to play an instrument, join a band, and oh well, let's write a cook book and after that it's the fashion line," he said.

"Prince of everything and king of nothing. It doesn't matter one bit. It's good for your purse yes, but it is damn boring as artistic expression," he said.

Although Hubbe loves Denmark, he has no doubt that he will move back to New York where he says he loves the speed of life and the quick-witted nature of New Yorkers.

"I know the Danes, I speak the language and I look like them genetically. But I am also a New Yorker," he said.

New York City Ballet will present a special farewell performance for Hubbe on Feb 10, where he will dance in the four works featured in the program.

"It's quite a program. I'll probably have a very sore back and very sore legs," he laughs.

And after that?

"There will be no more dancing. It's finished."

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