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Interview with Royal Danish Ballet Principal
Dancer and Coach, Thomas Lund
by Kate Snedeker
March 22, 2004
six months shy of his thirtieth birthday, Royal Danish Ballet principal
Thomas Lund has already made a lasting impact not only as a dancer, but
also as a coach, teacher and conservator of the Bournonville legacy.
How did you start out dancing?
I started, actually, ballroom dancing. The first year my mom brought me
I didnít like it and the only one I wanted to dance with was my mother.
So that wasnít actually very successful. Then I got a little older, and
we moved to a new city. I got a very nice dance teacher - ballroom teacher
- there, which I was very happy about. And, so I stayed there from [the
time I was] 7 years old until I started [at the Royal Danish Ballet School
] when I was eleven, just turning twelve.
did the ballroom dancing competitions every weekend, so I got used to
performing. I did the Latin American dancing and jazz and tap. So, I got
a lot of rhythm and body awareness and control through that. But no ballet
Until a mother at a dancing [competition] asked if Iíd ever considered
doing ballet. She knew a little bit about it. And I said, no, Iíd never
actually thought about [ballet]. I always knew that I wanted to be on
the stage. I always had that kind of inner feeling that that was what
I wanted to do.
So I went home to my mother and I said, 'Well, I want to go to an audition
for the Royal Ballet School' . And she was like, 'Oh, really! Well, if
thatís what you want, letís check it out.' And so I came [to the audition],
and I was accepted to the school. It was actually quite lucky - I think
things happen for a reason - it was just a few weeks before [the audition
was scheduled] that I got the idea and it was the last year before I was
Later on I figured out that the director of the school - Anne Marie Vessel
SchlŁter - her sister was in the same ballroom school. She [the sister]
had already told [SchlŁter] that sheíd seen a boy who had some talent,
so when I came to the [auditions], they already knew a little bit about
me. But that story was told many years later, and I didnít know that from
the beginning. So I was just accepted to the school as anybody else, and
went I just went through the whole shebam.
I became an apprentice [at age] 16 and got accepted in the company in
1993 when I was 18 years old. Then I was promoted to soloist in '96, and
2000 I was promoted [to] principal dancer. After that, I started teaching
and assisting a little bit in some of the instructing and I actually also
was in charge of putting 'Konservatoriet' on stage two seasons ago. And
then on the side, I also at the moment am doing a whole line of lectures
[on Bournonville] towards the festival, so Iím going through all the different
ballets. Itís an opportunity for interested audience to go to a smaller
theatre [the Teater Museet], where Bournonville used to actually rehearse
and perform. I was down there on Saturday talking about 'Abdalla', and
that was the third lecture of six where we are going through all the ballets.
So Iím doing that as well, and just working with the Bournonville style
and dancing the repertoire, where I do a lot of main characters. So Iím
pretty covered, around the Bournonville from different angles.
How did you get into teaching?
I was asked.
The first [person to ask] was actually Maina Gielgud, when she was here
as a director, and I didnít take it as a compliment. I took it as a maybe
itís because she doesnít know [how] to use me as a dancer. She [asked
if I could] start coaching or help some of the younger ones, and at that
point, I was twenty-two myself, or maybe twenty-three years old. But why
should I help anybody else when I still havenít started my own career,
almost. But I think that quality that she sawÖmaybe she was right about
it; I donít know.
But [several years] later they did ask me again, and I was a little older,
and I was a principal by that time and I thought, yeah, I think I would
like to try. Iíve done it three seasons now and enjoy it very much. But
of course, as anything else, it takes a lot of preparation, so Iím pretty
full with my schedule because Iím still dancing, teaching and then occasionally
doing [the Bournonville] lectures. But, on the other hand, every time
I do some of it I learn more about the whole tradition. So I find it also
as a wonderful opportunity to try to be a part of this [tradition] because
it is a Danish specialty.
I think we have not a duty, but I feel something towards doing all that
work.. Otherwise I suppose I wouldnít do it.
He was actually half Swedish, half French. He had Swedish mother and a
French father. And the father was dancing in Sweden , I think, and thatís
how he met the mother. And then they happened to move to Denmark , and
his father became the director of what was at that time the Royal Danish
Ballet - it was a very small company. [Bournonville] took over after his
father when he came back from Paris - heíd been in Paris studying Ė and
was then the director for about 42 years, from 30 all the way up to 76
or 77 something like that. And he died in '79, so he was director who
stayed in that position for the longest.
The preservation of the Bournonville tradition by the Royal Danish
Ballet has been major subject of discussion and debate. Opinions range
from those who think the company is doing a good job to those who feel
that the tradition is being destroyed. What do you think about all of
Well, I think this thing about destroying - you have to be very careful
about using that word, because everybody is trying to do their best in
what they know, and nobody really knows what [the Bournonville tradition]
really was from the beginning.
And also, [the style] has taken a development in line with the classical
technique that has developed. So, of course you donít dance how they used
to do it, because you have the pointe work knowledge and the knowledge
of many other things now that has brought the technique beyond what they
knew at that point. They didnít even know how to spot [then]. And funny
enough there was a lot of turns actually in the Bournonville repertoire
but [they did] it with a stiff neck; it wasnít with a real turn.
You can always discuss what is good and what is not good, but I think
at least you have to be really focused on keeping the tradition and making
sure that you keep passing it on to the next generation. But also at the
same time, itís important to try out new things, and if it is our [The
Royal Danish Ballet] specialty, then we also have the responsibility of
trying to bring it forward in different ways.
And what weíre doing at the moment, weíre trying to keep [the style, the
ballets] very much how think they used to be - which is great and I donít
want to take that away - but I think also we need to open up and see how
we can use it in other ways. Because we do have the problem that there
is not a whole big young audience. The next generation is maybe not that
interested in watching the Bournonville- they like to go and watch some
of the newer programs as well.
So, we have to balance it out and somehow keep waking the interest in
[We could do this by] doing [the ballets] really well, the way we think
they should be done, but also [by] trying to give them a new approach.
I think thatís a very fine balance, between that and keeping the traditional
performances as we have them. It is always a question of whoever is in
charge of [the ballets] right now - someone else who could have done it
might criticize that itís all ruined now.
When I look at the ballets - just going twenty years back, what you see
on videos, or even in the beginning of the century when you had the first
films that documented the dancing - I do think that they were not as specific
with what they were doing as we are today. We are thinking much
more about each
epaulment, and each leg, putting it forward or putting it back, putting
the coup die pied high or low. We are much more aware of that. So its
direct question of remembering all those things, and then on top of that
not forgetting to dance it.
Itís very interesting now that we are working with the Bournonville videos.
We are making a DVD of all the classes of Bournonville - there were Monday
through Saturday classes. We are almost halfway, and we are going to do
the rest so it will be finished for the festival in Ď05. There, I think,
its very important to do those things very specifically and do it they
way we think is the way our generation is dancing it. But once you do
a performance, you have to glide out of the class and get onto a performing
stage. I think that itís important to remember not to dance 'La Sylphide'
like the Wednesday class, but you have the whole base there, so its two
different things. That was a very long answer to your question, but I
think I got around it
You talk about not knowing exactly what the Bournonville style
wasÖdid Bournonville take notes on his ballets?
He wrote the ballets down, but itís very hard because his notations are
for himself to remember his ballets, and it was put under the musical
score. And this is very interesting - for instance, Hans Beck, who was
a director in the beginning of this century - Bournonville saw [Beck]
dance before he died and liked him as a dancer, and so Beck had a feeling
for the whole style that shows how it goes onto the next generation. He
created solos, five solos for 'Napoli', third act, and those solos were
taken from 'Abdallah'. He read [the notations] in the score for 'Abdallah',
and he didnít do [the solos] that specifically. Now weíve seen 'Napoli'
so many times that we think that this is how it used to be.
Now Iím starting working with 'Abdallah'. Flemming Ryberg and Toni Lander
reconstructed it, and they really went into the score of 'Abdallah' and
took it word by word, and they reconstructed the solos that Hans Beck
in a way also reconstructed, but put it in 'Napoli' and they got a very
different result. So thatís very interesting and shows a little bit about
reading those scores really carefully.
But is it just a question of reading carefully, or is no-one totally
Well itís also a question of nobodyís totally sure, because sometimes
[Bournonville] didnít write everything. So you just know that here thereís
missing a step, but how would you get from [the previous] step to the
next step. So with the knowledge you have as a Bournonville dancer, you
fill in whatís missing
What do you enjoy specifically about the dancing, as opposed coaching
What I enjoy about the dancingÖ Well, first of all, what I enjoy about
the Bournonville repertoire is that when you are that privileged, as I
have been, to get some of the leading parts, you get to do them over a
longer period of time. You do a few shows, and then [the ballet] might
not be in the repertoire for a year and then you do it again. So you keep
getting back to the same part, and since its not just dancing, its also
telling a story, your being a character on stage, you have to develop
your character. You have a possibility of doing that, in terms of also
getting older yourself, so you will develop with your character.
And I think thatís very interesting for me because when I was accepted
to the school, it was because I knew I liked to be on the stage - I could
have been an actor today, maybe, instead, but I ended up being a dancer.
So of course, the dancing interests me, but also being a character, building
And then you also keep developing your choreography, because the more
you do it, the better you get at it, and the more it feels right in your
body. So itís those two things [developing the character and the choreography]
that glide togetherÖyou can actually grow in these ballets.
then Ö. teaching, coaching and dancing at the same timeÖwhen you suddenly
have to rethink what youíre doing and tell someone else to do it, I think
you get wiser yourself and you learn something from that process. So,
all in all, I think you get more aware because if itís not clear in your
own mind, [your students] are going to be very confused.
Do you have a favorite dancer or dancers?
NoÖ No I donít. There are different dancers that I really enjoy here in
Denmark and also in other companies. But, I think you know comparing big
artists is like comparing big painters - theyíre all different and they
have their own different personalities.
Sometimes I get asked ĎDo you have a favorite part?í too. And I have had
some really nice experiences with different parts. For instance, doing
James in 'La Sylphide' is something that for a Danish dancer is quite
special, because it would be the same for actor to do Hamlet. So it means
a lot to me every time I do it. And then I enjoy also doing the different
repertoire. Sometimes itís nice to have a rest with the Bournonville and
do more contemporary works and new classic works. And also learning something
from [doing those other ballets] as well, getting some strength or getting
some phrasing that you could maybe put into your Bournonville. Iím not
changing [the Bournonville], but itís good to have both things against
What other ballets have you done here recently that are not Bournonville?
Recently Iíve done some Peter Martins, then I did 'Nutcracker' and then
Iíve done William Forsytheís 'In the Middle Somewhat Elevated', which
was an great piece to do - very hard but very interesting. Itís a nice
ballet; it was made on Sylvie Guillem, I think, at Paris Opera. And then
Iíve done some Robbins stuff, 'The Concert', which is kind of fun, and
with characters, again not so far from the Bournonville repertoire.
Are there any ballets that you like to watch, as opposed to dance
There are some ballets that are more fun watching, I suppose... [for instance]
Hal Lander was the director here from around 1931, '32 until 1951, and
at that time he created a masterpiece that was called 'Etudes'. The ballet
was built on Czernyís 'Etudes', the music - when you learn to play piano,
thereís a special book called Czernyís Etudes and you [play]
all those 'Etudes', and you get a better technique. So, it was the same
concept in the ballet - it starts with the barre, and builds up gradually,
and then you see the ballerina, the prince and two guys on the side, and
a pas de deux.
a very technical ballet, its almost like 'Symphony in C' and itís a wonderful
piece. And ['Etudes'] is technically very hard because it is very black
and white - if you [make] a mistake itís very obvious, so if you are on,
[itís] fantastic to do, and if you not on, you might be sitting in the
audience, you will need to [get off] of the stage!
Is there a role[s] or a ballet[s] that youíve never done that
you would like to do?
Yes. With this company, we have a tradition of tall boys doing the 'prince'
parts. I do get to do some of them - James and the main parts in the Bournonville
repertoire. Once you get into the Petipa, I more I get to do [parts like]
Bluebird, for instance, in 'Sleeping Beauty'. Iíve also done the Prince
in the 'Nutcracker'.
So, I would like to do maybe Albrecht in 'Giselle', something like that
would be nice. And maybe the Prince in 'Swan Lake' - it would be nice
to try and do that instead of maybe doing some of the divert [divertissement]
dances. But otherwise I have being pretty lucky,
Itís always hard when you get into the category of being a smaller dancer
in this company, because we have tall boys and do a lot of Bournonville
repertory, which has that heavy flavor. So you easily get put into a box
of being very good at being heavy and being sort of right there on the
spot. I do feel that I have other qualities, as being a little more serious
and not just being 'amusement'! And, the [dancers] that are doing Prince
[roles] all the time probably want to have a little bit of fun sometimes!
But, I have done [many roles], so itís not that Iím really complaining.
And now, we have the Bournonville Festival coming up, so of course a lot
of those ballets are in the repertoire, so I will be doing a lot of [dancing].
But after the Festival, weíll see, maybe it will be a different matter.
Hopefully I will get some new chances, and Iíve probably need that time,
because then weíve have done a lot of Bournonville and weíll need a break
Other than Royal Danish Ballet tours, Bournonville ballets are
not often performed in places like the United States. How do you think
Bournonville could be brought to more audiences?
[Companies] could do what the [ New York ] City Ballet has done Ė 'Bournonville
Divertissements'. They could [perform] Ballabile from 'Napoli' first act,
Jockey Dance, maybe 'La Ventana' pas de deux, Flower Festival and finish
off with the pas de six from 'Napoli'. All those [pieces] could be done
also in a mixed program where you have [pieces from] a Broadway choreographer,
a Bournonville piece, [a ballet from a] European choreographer and something
else. Whatever the concept would be for the evening, then there would
be a handful of different [ballets] you could put in. It would be up to
the individual director to [make] that decision, but I think it would
be a good idea.
think in a funny way the world has also gotten a lot smaller, because
you do see many styles being done on different companies, and not so much
[like] the old days when things were very separate. But if [another company]
would like to do Bournonville somewhere and it works within the concept,
I think that would be a wonderful idea, and if they need some help, we
could help them out.
One final questionÖthereís a picture of you playing the piano
on your website. How long have you played?
Since I was seven. So Iíve played piano for longer than Iíve actually
danced! But [I havenít played much for] the last few years. My piano teacher
moved - I had the same teacher [from the time] I was seven - and I didnít
get a new one. At the same time I started coaching and teaching, and all
of the time I used on just practicing piano, Iím suddenly now using to
prepare for class. Itís a pity...I have my piano at home and I look at
it, and [think] Iím gonna do it [play], Iím gonna do it, and I havenít
done it. At one point I will [play] again because I played for 17, 18
Edited by Holly Messitt
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