Antoine Bournonville (1760-1843)

Antoine Bournonville (1760 - 1843), although he was born in Denmark, was classified as a French dancer. His family were all artists. He started his dance studies in Vienna with Noverre, and went with him to Paris. In 1792 he went to Stockholm and then to Copenhagen, where he danced in many ballets by Galeotti, succeeding him as Ballet Director. He held the job from 1816 to 1823. His most famous ballet was "Les Meuniers Provencaux." However, he is remembered in history primarily as the father of August Bournonville.

August Bournonville, was born in Copenhagen in 1805 and died there in 1879. August was the son of Antoine and his student. When he was eight years old he was accepted in the Copenhagen Royal Ballet School. The school was headed by Vincenzo Galeotti, an Italian, who spent much of his life in Denmark. Vincenzo's choreography used Shakespeare's plays as themes for his ballets. So August's earliest influences came from the Italian school. At the age of fifteen he was taken into the company in Copenhagen, and sent to Paris to study with Auguste Vestris. Vestris' name was important many months ago in this Newsletter. I tell you this to show again how dancer's lives overlap and their influences are passed from one generation to another. He traveled back and forth from Paris to Copenhagen and toured the capitals of Europe. He was also a favourite partner of Marie Taglioni. The ballets that we are most familiar with are LA SYLPHIDE, NAPOLI and THE DANCING SCHOOL. In 1840 he gave up dancing to devote all of his energies to choreography. He had choreographed over forty ballets before he retired in 1877.

August spent much of his life trying to bring to ballet the recognition in his own country that ballet enjoyed in Paris. He was eventually knighted and the Danish ballet became a matter of national pride through his efforts. It is said that few people have done more for ballet in their country than August Bournonville.

(First published July 1992)

My curse for pianists is: in heaven they will have to dance to their own music.