A Look into the History of Bournonville and Balanchine

SAB’s 2023 Workshop Performances feature excerpts from August Bournonville’s 1842 Napoli. The connection between George Balanchine and August Bournonville dates back to well before the School’s inception, when a young Balanchine became enamored with Bournonville’s work.

Born in 1805, August Bournonville was trained in the classical French methods. He first became a soloist for the Royal Danish Ballet, then transitioned to the role of ballet master and led the company as artistic director for nearly fifty years. During his tenure, he established his own pedagogy and choreographed several, now-famous, ballets that were unique in their combination of physicality, mime, and character work. Similar to Balanchine, Bournonville’s daily classes focused on musicality, artistry, and quick footwork that would allow his dancers to perform his exuberant and virtuosic choreography.

In 1929, George Balanchine, who long admired Bournonville’s work, had the pivotal experience of joining the Royal Danish Ballet as a guest ballet master before opening the doors of SAB in 1934 with co-founder Lincoln Kirstein. Because of the philosophical and pedagogical similarities between Balanchine and Bournonville, Balanchine recruited some of his best dancers and instructors from the Royal Danish Ballet School. One of whom, Stanley Williams, would become one of the most prominent faculty members in SAB’s history.

In 1964, George Balanchine invited Willams to teach the students at SAB. In his youth, Williams trained at the Royal Danish School, where he became deeply immersed in the Bournonville tradition. He performed with the company as a soloist for six years before coming to the United States to join the faculty at SAB.

Stanley Williams teaching at SAB. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

While at the School, Stanley Williams became one of the most influential ballet academicians of his era and a respected authority on Bournonville, staging works by the choreographer for SAB’s Workshop Performances 24 times between 1968 and 1995.

Excerpts from NAPOLI, SAB Workshop 2001

The “Pas de Six” and “Tarantella” from Act III of August Bournonville’s 1842 Napoli was the final Workshop ballet staged by Stanley Williams (in 1995) and had been performed previously by students under his tutelage in 1969 and 1984. This year, the excerpts return for the first time since 2001, staged by Petrusjka Broholm, a former soloist with the Royal Danish Ballet. The selections will be presented in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Stanley Williams death.

Rehearsals for NAPOLI in SAB’s 2023 Workshop, Staged by Petrusjka Broholm. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

The influence of August Bournonville, and later, Stanley Williams, is still evident in SAB’s training and performances to this day. Don’t miss your chance to see excerpts from Napoli in this year’s Workshop Performances on June 3 and 5!

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