Royal Danish Ballet's Ulrik Birkkjær on Coordinating The Company's Dancer-Led NYC Tour
This story originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of
The Royal Danish Ballet will perform a program featuring excerpts from August Bournonville’s Napoli and La Sylphide, among other pieces, at the Joyce Theater January 13 through 18. The performances mark the 60th anniversary of the company’s U.S. debut. The tour, consisting of only principals and soloists, was organized by the dancers themselves—with the blessing of artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe. Pointe spoke with principal dancer and tour coordinator Ulrik Birkkjær to find out what to expect.
What prompted the tour?
I organized our tour to Jacob’s Pillow in 2007, and during our time there David Howard suggested that we perform at the Joyce Theater in New York. Since it’s an anniversary year, it felt like the right moment.
Gudrun Bojseon in “La Slyphide.” Photo by Costin Radu, Courtesy RDB.
Is it common for the company to tour internationally in small groups?
Yes! The RDB built its relationship with U.S. audiences through small tours like Frank Andersen and Dinna Bjørn’s Bournonville Group in the mid-1980s. It’s not part of the RDB’s strategy for dancers to lead tours, but we have a long summer break and we’re ambitious!
As tour coordinator, what have been your challenges?
Securing funding and visas is difficult. And luckily we’re bringing a stage manager and lighting designer so I can focus on dancing once we arrive. Instead of organizing company class, we’re looking forward to all the great teachers in New York.
What is the significance of an all-Bournonville program?
Bournonville is what the company is known for and what international audiences want to see from us. His choreography is interesting as a technique—it can feel like the rhythm of the music is in the legs while the melody is in the port de bras—but also for its ideals. He believed that dance is a catalyst for becoming a better person. I feel an obligation to share that in a world of circus tricks and instant gratification.