WesScholar August Bourn on ville MY THEATRE LIFE

Svend Kragh-Jacobsen
REREADING Bournonville's memoirs, now for the first time in an English translation, I cannot help wondering what would happen if this great master of the ballet and the dance were living today. I wonder if he would have fulfilled his genius on the same international level as, say, George Balanchine, whose works are known in so many countries. Does man's fulfillment of himself depend solely on exposure to the particular time and environment within which he was born? Certainly Bournonville
more » ... ed himself in Denmark. But the goal of any artist, whether he likes to admit it or not, is to reach all people. Some do not achieve this in their own time. To the artist in the living theatre, however, it is essential that he achieve it then. With the techniques presently available we can preserve theatrical events for the future. It is doubtful, though, whether we would spend the time and money to record something that did not appeal to us at the moment. The worth of the stage artist must be recognized in his lifetime. Bournonville's ballets were preserved by the only method known in his time-they were passed on from one generation to the next. We also know that they sometimes passed through the eyes and minds of lesser talents. We still have his synopses, scripts, and notes for all the ballets in the current repertory, as well as for many we have not performed in decades. We do not, however, have detailed records of much of his actual choreography. We still have dancers who swear they remember what they learned in their early youth, yet any two of them may argue at length as to who did a step more exactly or conceived a role more correctly. Bournonville himself went through a mass of dancers in his time. Surely lesser talents never stopped him from creating and being constructive. Through his talent and instinct, he was quick to measure a dancer's ability and therefore his limitations. Though steps and roles were interpreted by dancers, it was he who controlled body and soul as long as the idea was his. It is his idea that must live. Today Bournonville's works have traveled widely, much against the longtime policy of our Royal Danish Ballet. Perhaps we wronged him by considering him private property-the last thing any great creative artist could wish. Bournonville's genius does not belong to Denmark alone. He is his country's pride and a national institution. Yet often we fail him when reproducing his xi xii Foreword ballets. Perhaps we take his work too much for granted. We have a passion for him, but it is not always burning. Denmark inherited Bournonville and we have many historians with sufficient knowledge of English who could have translated his memoirs. It may seem odd that a foreigner should have given herself the immense challenge of bringing Bournonville to life for the English-speaking world. Yet I am sure he would have been pleased to know how it came about. Young and bright, Patricia McAndrew from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with some ballet background of her own, saw the Royal Danish Ballet during its 1965 tour of the United States. Several Bournonville ballets were included in the repertory. Aroused and excited, her curiosity to find out more about Bournonville was frustrated by the limited material available in English. She proceeded to study the Danish language, eventually receiving a Fulbright-Hays grant to pursue her studies in Copenhagen. To master the reading of Danish is no small task, but Miss McAndrew's burning passion for the subject must have helped her during times when others would have given up. Now her passion and understanding bring Bournonville's own words to life in this translation. The more she discovered about him as a person-with all his conflicts, doubts, contradictions, hopes, sometimes failures (whether of the stage or real life)-the more her relation to a man of the past became a happening of the present. Her intense studies took her, not only to the libraries and museums, but to all those places where Bournonville had lived and worked. She listened to and talked with Danish writers, historians, and ballet critics. Perhaps her most lively experience has been her acquaintance with the staff of the old Court Theatre, now a museum, where Bournonville often worked and where some of his creative ideas have stayed right through to our day. It is there also that most of his theatrical belongings can be found, as well as most of his ballet manuscripts. After her daily hours of study, I am sure it was within these walls of the Court Theatre that Miss McAndrew must have felt Bournonville most alive and real. It is this personal-and I may call it living-relationship with the past that makes her English translation so authentic for us. I feel sure that Miss McAndrew's work will bring, not only to the dance world but to the general reader, the knowledge and acquaintance of a man whose creative force and genius gave him sufficient courage to survive himself in life and work. I feel privileged to have been asked to write this foreword. It may be argued in Denmark whether I am the most competent to introduce this work. Having read it, I was left with no choice. I thank Patricia McAndrew for her effort, conscientious study, and passion, which have made Bournonville available and so alive in a language of the world. WHEN August Bournonville died in Copenhagen on November 30, 1879, at the age of seventy-four, he had long since renounced the ambitions that had filled him upon his return to Denmark in 1829, after his years of study in Paris. He dreamed of a world-wide reputation, first for himself while he was still dancing, and later for his ballets, which he tried, during 1855-1856, to introduce at the Vienna Opera, where he served as Balletmaster for a single season. Neither part of his dream was realized. Shortly before his death, he wrote in a spirit of resignation to his friend, the actor Frederik Hji.Sedt, "Nothing in this world lasts forever, least of all the fleeting apparitions of the stage"; and to his own daughter Charlotte-who was for many years an opera singer at the Royal Theatre-he confided, without any bitterness, that for some time to come his ballets would indeed maintain their place in the repertoire of Copenhagen's Royal Theatre but that within twenty years after he was gone they would have completely disappeared. Surely by then the next great choreographer would have emerged to provide both dancers and audience with fresh new works. But some sort of provision would have to be made for the interim, and with this end in view, Bournonville in•l877 meticulously rehearsed a repertoire of sixteen of his most popular ballets, and in the following year published the last part of what he chose to call his "testament" -My Theatre Lifea book that he hoped would serve as a guideline for his successors in the Danish Ballet until such time as a new young Compositionstalent would appear. He had given up the hope of seeing his dream fulfilled, but he did achieve one of his goals: in his native land he had managed to create respect for the art which his father, Antoine Bournonville, regarded as "la carriere la plus glorieuse du monde," and which with its struggles, defeats, and victories had become his own. There in Denmark he succeeded in seeing ballet folk accepted as respected members of society. He himself was recognized not only by the Danish intellectual elite of his day, from Berte! Thorvaldsen to Hans Christian Andersen; he was also respected by high and low alike. Still, for him, international renown remained a vanished dream. So he believed, and his countrymen along with him. For a long time, his pessimism appeared to be justified. In Denmark, the ballet hit a trough and xiii Imperial Russian Ballet. He taught for so long that among the last of his pupils were included several stars who in their later years handed down their ballet knowledge as teachers in Paris, following the 1917 revolution in their homeland. Bournonville and his finest ballets-about a dozen of which still survive in the repertoire of Copenhagen's Royal Theatre-finally got their chance when the Danish Ballet, in the years following World War II or, more accurately, during the nineteen fifties, actually began to move out into the world, which had previously known little about them. The groundwork was laid by Harald Lander, who had been brought up in the Bournonville school since his acceptance as a pupil at the Royal Theatre in 1913. From 1932 to 1951 he was the leader of the Danish Ballet who not only-in the spirit of the "Old Master" -personally created soloists, corps, and repertoire but also, in conjunction with Hans Beck's partner, the distinguished Valborg Borchsenius, took it upon himself to shape the Bournonville repertoire into a clean, bright style. The "Old Master" 's most popular works came alive once more on the stage of the Royal Theatre. They became the most admired productions, into the bargain, when Lander's successors in the fifties and sixties had the opportunity to send the Royal Danish Ballet abroad for foreign guest appearances. did not attempt to thank at least some of the people who-often by only so much as a few sentences spoken in passing, a newspaper article, or an old book unearthed in some attic-have helped to broaden my knowledge and understanding of Bournonville and the world he lived in. First of all, this translation would never have seen the light of day were it not for the unflagging encouragement and support of my parents, Dr. and Mrs. F. J. McAndrew. I am equally indebted to Selma Jeanne Cohen for the interest she has shown in this undertaking from the very beginning; it was her curiosity to know just what Bournonville's memoirs contained that led to my first, rather halting, translations from Mit Theaterliv. A great deal of credit is due 0rnulf Valla for the countless hours he spent patiently helping me "cut my translator's teeth" on the dreadfully long, nineteenth-century Danish sentences we found in the books so kindly lent to me by Julie Jensen. I shall be eternally grateful to Erik Bruhn, Toni Lander, and Bruce Marks for their inspiration and advice, which pointed my way to Denmark. A Fulbright Scholarship-which I would never have thought to apply for without the confident urging of Carol Dean Henn-helped to support my early research in Copenhagen, where the hospitality of Allan Fridericia and Elsa Marianne von Rosen made me feel at home during my first weeks in Denmark. My Danish colleagues, Svend Kragh-Jacobsen, Erik Aschengreen, Karen Neiiendam, and Klaus Neiiendam, have always gone out of their way to supply answers to the countless queries with which I have bombarded them over the years. I cannot sufficiently emphasize the contributions they have made to this work. Likewise cherished are the many happy hours I spent in the kitchen of 7V, at Otto Ms>-~nsteds Kollegium in Copenhagen, where my fellow students during the years 1968-1970 allowed themselves to be used as "living dictionaries" in my struggle to decipher Bournonville's often archaic Danish. On a broader scale, conversations with the late Cyril W. Beaumont, John Percival, and Mr. and Mrs. Ivor Guest helped to place Bournonville's career in a European perspective, while Clement Crisp was kind enough to call my xix I The Dance THE idea of dancing is inseparable from music, and in her nature Terpsichore embodies both rhythm and movement. The most spontaneous in its origin and effect, the most independent and spirited, aye, the noblest of all the fine arts is music. How much, and still how little, has been written about this divine art, yet people will seldom admit that the Dance is its first-born daughter. And why? Does beauty not have the same requirements as euphony? Is the eye farther from the soul than the ear? Did not the Almighty Creator, who put harmony into the echo of the hills, into the vault of the woods, into the deep rush of the waterfall, and chose the human breast as the repository for the most beautiful sounds, also create the hovering swallow, the fleeting hind, the supple reed, and, above all, the human body, which in the calm of purity is the epitome of natural grace? This creation called forth praise and admiration. The word was not yet formed, but the voice sounded and the paean exultantly rang out. The listeners stood round about, filled with excitement. They wished to imitate these sounds, but for one thing they lacked the gift of melody, and for another they feared to disturb the magic. Then the hand followed the eye toward the admired regions of the body. It was as if the steps wished to accompany the undulations of the sounds. The body sang ... they heard the singer's music; he 7 II Pantomime THE art of denoting characters, explaining situations, and expressing feelings and passions through gestures is identical with dance insofar as it is the form in which dancing originally appeared as dramatic representation. Dancing served to embellish festivals, but pantomime rose to the stage and was held in even greater esteem, as there were few who knew how to perform it. It is a mistake to assume that the pantomimes which captivated the Romans under Augustus had something in common with the art form we call ballet. There is still no agreement as to whether there was scenery in the ancient theatres, where stages were not deep and where the plays were given by daylight. The famous mimes Bathyllus, Pylades, and Hylas appeared only after the death of Roscius"' and played scenes from the great tragic authors. At that time the art of mime enraptured everyone to such a degree that the spoken drama was almost totally eclipsed. But whether it did indeed constitute a transition to a more natural mode of performing, since pantomime was free of the gigantic masks through whose mouthpieces the actors had to shout their tirades in order to be heard by the thousands who filled the enormous amphitheatres, or whether its picturesque beauty appealed to a people who had such great feeling for the plastic and knew the tragedies by heart, suffice it to say there was no god, no important story in history, that pantomime did not represent for enthusiastic Rome. But how, and in what form? The action was performed, for the most part, by a single person, whose art consisted in assuming as many different characters as there were roles in the piece. On one side of the proscenium stood a flute player, who marked the rhythm and followed the shifting emotions; on the other side stood a declaimer, who related the subject matter. Contests were sometimes improvised between the most famous mimes, and the public split into violent factions. N overre' s letters contain interesting descriptions gathered from old historical writings, but I know an anecdote that N overre has not recounted and which I will here present in order to illustrate the nature of pantomime. Caligula, who was a passionate lover of.pantomime, aye, who himself trod the stage (usually in a female role), has sentenced to death a mime who had incurred his wrath as the result of some offense. The unfortunate man begs J. Turretin.