Henning Albrechtsen performing with The Royal Danish Ballet in A Folk Tale
A Leading Authority on Bournonville at NBS to stage the pas de sept from A Folk Tale

How does one become a world authority on the staging of the ballets of August Bournonville, the 19th century Danish choreographer who developed a unique and lasting style? Apparently, if one takes Henning Albrechtsen’s story as an example, you dedicate five consecutive years to improving your technique to gain a place at the Royal Danish Ballet School, the keeper of the Bournonville tradition.

Danish born Albrechtsen, who is at NBS to stage the pas de sept from Bournonville’s A Folk Tale for this year’s Spring Showcase, began studying ballet at the age of twelve. Gangly and uncoordinated as a youth, he nevertheless loved to jump around to music and so was sent off to a private ballet school simply as a way to help him overcome his awkwardness.  Once there, he fell in love with the art form. Its disciplined method of expressing joy in moving to music led him to imagine a professional dance career but yearly attempts to gain admittance to the only professional ballet school in Denmark were thwarted, in large part because of his lack of technical strength, exacerbated by his height which continued to increase well into his teens.  After his fifth audition, his mother asked if he could at least participate in the pas de deux classes as these were not available anywhere else. Granted permission to attend those classes, he started slipping into the other classes too where he was noticed by the Director of the Royal Danish Ballet Company and offered a position in the corps de ballet. Suddenly he was thrown into Bournonville’s choreography, a central feature of the repertoire, and so began his mastery of the style.  This mastery continued to develop in his many years as a dancer and later Deputy Artistic Director of the Company. He would even spend many years as a full-time faculty member of the Royal Danish Ballet School, the irony of which has not escaped him. He credits the fact that he did not grow up with the style, but rather approached it as an adult, for his deep appreciation of its beauty and complexity.

Today Albrechtsen is considered one of his generation’s leading authorities on the Bournonville style and, as such, is in demand around the world as a teacher and stager of Bournonville. He attributes the appeal of Bournonville to its infectious expression of joyful abandon. The choreography demands fast, sparkling footwork that must be done with apparent ease. Mastering this style is a challenge for the students but he tries to bring into the studio that sense of joy that first attracted him to ballet and that was so important to Bournonville.