Call Board: Hübbe Comes Home

May 11, 2011

The last time the Royal Danish Ballet performed in New York City, some 23 years ago, Nikolaj Hübbe was dancing with the company. Soon after that, he joined New York City Ballet, and his purity of line and expression made him a favorite in New York until his retirement in 2008. In June, Hübbe comes full circle: He’ll return to the Big Apple, this time in his new role at the helm of RDB.


Hübbe says he was transformed by his exposure to the Balanchine style, and he hopes NYC audiences will see a similar transformation in today’s RDB dancers. “For me it was eye-opening to come to NYCB because of the emphasis on clarity, on high-definition dancing,” he says. “And some of that I’ve been working on with the dancers here in Denmark—the articulation of the lower leg, the exact musicality.” But he’s also aware that he has the company’s mighty Bournonville tradition to uphold. “There is something classical and eternal in the Bournonville style that is my job to preserve. I hope we live up to that reputation.”


To that end, he’s chosen repertoire for the NYC visit (part of a two-month national tour) that mixes tradition and innovation, with RDB mainstays like La Sylphide and Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson juxtaposed with Jorma Elo’s Lost on Slow. “I wanted the old world, the history, but I also wanted to show our diversity, the fresh face of RDB,” he explains.


Though Hübbe confesses that he’s a bit nervous to show off his new baby to American audiences—“There will be a lot of nail-biting,” he says—he’s mostly just happy to be coming “home,” to the David H. Koch Theater. “To be in that house, especially with my new family—which is also somehow my old family—it’s almost too good to be true.”



PNB’s New-Old

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new production of Giselle, which opens in Seattle June 3, is one of the most anticipated dance events of the summer. So it’s surprising to hear that artistic director Peter Boal, who’s staging it, has pretty much zero experience with the ballet. “Never danced it,” he says. “I’m very naive coming into this project. And I actually see that as a plus: It means I’m looking with fresh eyes, without any baggage.” 


Along with Stepanov notation expert Doug Fullington and Giselle scholar Marian Smith, Boal has been concocting PNB’s version of the Romantic-era ballet for months, working from primary sources that date back more than a century. It’s the first time an American company has reconstructed a ballet from Stepanov notation. “Giselle is a ballet I wanted our audience to know and our dancers to perform, but I couldn’t find a current production that worked for PNB,” Boal says. “So we went back to the original, which has been fascinating. The whole process feels very archeological. The composer’s handwriting is on the original score, and Petipa’s handwriting is on another.”


Though PNB’s production won’t be identical to the version that Paris audiences first saw in 1841—“There are some things that you discover in the notation that make you say, ‘Yuck! That’s not going to work on today’s dancers,’ ” Boal admits—certain aspects of it will definitely surprise Giselle diehards. One example: For decades, the curtain has fallen on Albrecht pining at Giselle’s grave or walking off alone into the night. But that’s not what Boal and his crew found in the notation. “It indicates that Bathilde and a few of the other characters return, and that Giselle urges Albrecht to go back to Bathilde,” Boal says. “She even points to his fourth finger to say, ‘You should marry her.’ It’s totally different! I’m still not sure if we want to go that direction, but it’s something we’re experimenting with in rehearsal.”


The Kirov Takes Manhattan

What could be better than a Kirov Ballet visit to NYC? A Kirov visit that involves two brand-new (to us) Alexei Ratmansky ballets, that’s what. This July, the Russian company will perform Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina and The Little Humpbacked Horse, both U.S. premieres, at the Metropolitan Opera House as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. (A third program includes Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite.) Expect to see familiar faces onstage: Nearly all of the troupe’s major stars—including Diana Vishneva, Alina Somova and Ekaterina Kondaurova—are scheduled to perform.



New York City was teeming with ballet-stars-to-be late this March, when hundreds of young dancers arrived to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix NYC Finals. After the whirlwind week of classes and competition performances, seven American dancers walked away with solo medals—and 14 with contract offers, to companies including National Ballet of Canada (Nayara Lopes), Houston Ballet II (Lauren Cregan) and Tulsa Ballet II (Jaimi Cullen, Andrew Silks, Chelsea Keefer and Bailey Moon).


NYCB Moves in Vail

New York City Ballet is nearly 100 dancers strong, and that’s a glorious thing—except when it comes to touring. On July 31, NYCB Moves, a more portable group of 17 dancers, will make its debut at the Vail International Dance Festival. Moves is designed to bring the NYCB repertoire to modest venues that can’t accommodate the full troupe, and will eventually involve a rotating cast of company members. Though objections from the dancers’ union initially threatened to derail the project, the Vail performances—which include Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and a lecture demonstration featuring Balanchine’s solos for men—are now back on track.


Synth-Pop with a Ballet Twist

The new synth-pop band Bangin Sid has ballet in its blood. New York City Ballet dancers Henry Seth and Ask la Cour create and perform the music along with singer Michelle Palladino; former NYCB and Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Miranda Weese and onetime Joffrey Ballet member Natasha LaFayette are the “Sidette” dancers. “We’re definitely not your typical pop musicians!” Weese says. Catch Bangin Sid on June 13 in NYC—and stick around for the dance party that follows each of the group’s shows.



Karina Gonzalez on Jorma Elo and Her New Houston Family

Houston Ballet’s “Raising the Barre” program, which runs through June 5, offers three ballets that are either new to the company (Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, Christopher Bruce’s Grinning in Your Face) or new to the world (a premiere by Jorma Elo). Soloist Karina Gonzalez, who until last season was a principal with Tulsa Ballet, spoke to Pointe about her own debuts—in Elo’s work, and at Stanton Welch’s HB.


Pointe: Have you danced any Jorma Elo ballets before?

Karina Gonzalez:
No, this is my first Elo piece ever. Actually, this is the first piece that’s been choreographed on me in Houston, and it’s also Jorma’s first piece for Houston Ballet. It’s a sort of “coming out” for both of us.

PT: Do you find his style challenging?

Definitely! To move the way he moves, you have to be sharp and soft at the same time in different parts of your body.

PT:  Tell us about the new piece.

It’s for six couples. I don’t think there’s a real story; Jorma just comes into the studio with a feeling or a mood in mind. During rehearsals for my pas de deux, he told me to move like I’m underwater. He told me to imagine waves in my arms.

PT: This is your first season in Houston. What drew you to HB?

My time with TB was wonderful, but I was ready to push myself further in a bigger company, and to experience more cities and people and teachers. In Tulsa I had the opportunity to dance Stanton’s work, and I felt like we clicked—like I was his kind of dancer.

You’re part of a new crop of dancers at HB that includes Melissa Hough and Danielle Rowe.

Isn’t that amazing? That was part of why I came here, too: I wanted to dance next to all these beautiful women and learn from them.


Hot Ticket Giveaways

Christopher Wheeldon’s fanciful Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland charmed London audiences earlier this year. In June, The National Ballet of Canada will tackle the new full-length ballet. We’re giving away two tickets to the 7:30 pm performance on June 23.


Pennsylvania Ballet will cap off its 2010–11 season with Sir Frederick Ashton’s classic romantic comedy La Fille mal gardée. We’re giving away two tickets to the closing performance on Saturday, June 11, at 8 pm.