Mia – June 11, 2019
For the past couple of years, my nine-year-old daughter Astrid has taken ballet lessons. I wasn’t too surprised by her request to begin dancing, as we’d been attending performances of “The Nutcracker” every year since she was three and had amassed a collection of ballet picture books and glitzy tutus over the years.
But what began as a little girl’s fascination with pink satin toe shoes and fairy-tale dancers is now blossoming into a more serious interest. As a ballet-school dropout (at age six, no less), I’ve been impressed by Astrid’s commitment to her twice-weekly classes and to practicing her pliés and arabesques at every opportunity. So, when I heard that Kompagni B was coming to Chicago this month, I couldn’t wait to take her to a performance.
Astrid would be thrilled to see any ballet perform, but she can hardly contain her excitement about seeing Kompagni B, because it’s the world’s first ballet company in which kids not only dance, but also take responsibility for the entire performance, from repertory to choreography to direction, dance venues, and technical setup. And did I mention that it also happens to be the youth company of the world-renowned Royal Danish Ballet?
I heard about the performances through my friends at The Danish Home, who are every bit as excited about the dancers’ visit to Chicago as Astrid and I are. Their performances, all free and open to the public, begin today and continue through next Thursday, June 20, at various Chicago locations. Astrid and I will be in our seats in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center on June 18 when, under the direction of award-winning choreographer Ann Crosset, the 22 young dancers in Kompagni B will artfully present excerpts from the Royal Danish Bournonville repertory, a piece from the Joel Hall Dancers Youth Company, and two world premieres.
In preparation for our outing, I did a little research on Kompagni B to share with my little ballerina. While it was established only 10 years ago, young dancers have played a prominent role in the productions of the Royal Danish Ballet for almost 250 years. A classical company, the Royal Danish Ballet was founded in 1748. Established in 1771, the Royal Danish Ballet School is one of the three oldest ballet schools in the world. It’s also one of the few worldwide that offers academic studies along with classical ballet training.
The galvanizing force behind the Royal Danish Ballet was August Bournonville, who served as artistic director of the company from 1830 to 1877 and created of many of the company’s storytelling ballets, which are still performed for happy audiences like Astrid and me. His name also lives on in the ballet’s Bournonville style, which features quick, small steps rather than dramatic leaps and lifts. Principal ballerinas at the Royal Danish Ballet (including Caroline Baldwin of Chicago) also don’t spend as much time dancing en pointe as in many other companies.
Astrid was interested to learn that the 120 students of the Royal Danish Ballet School begin their immersion in the Bournonville style and repertory at an early age. The school added a preschool class in 2011. By the time they reach the third grade, students are attending ballet classes in the morning and late afternoon, with academic lessons and rehearsals in between and occasional performances at night. The mission of the school is to train, “not just elite dancers, but elite human beings.” By the time ballet students reach grades 8 and 9 (14- to 16-years-old), they join Kompagni B, which is billed the youngest ballet company in the world.
As the mom of a middle-schooler, I was fascinated to learn how much responsibility the young company members take on—not just for their dancing or the technical aspects of the performances, but also for that ensuring everyone gets on the bus at the right time. That never happens on my kids’ field trips!
Kompagni B was also designed to resolve some of the issues the ballet school was facing, such as retaining boy dancers and attracting more young people to auditions, according to artistic director Ann Crosset. “Now it’s the darling of the (Royal Danish) Ballet,” she told the Medium blog of the Consulate General of Denmark in New York.
The company has previously toured Brazil and China, and now it is in Chicago where its Danish teen members are sharing the stage with two local groups, the Joel Hall Dancers Youth Company and Daniel Duell’s and Patricia Blair’s Ballet Chicago.
I can’t wait to see Astrid’s reaction as these young dancers take the stage, but I’m also preparing for her inevitable question afterward: “Can I go to the Royal Danish Ballet School when I’m older?”