Monday, February 11, 2008

A Farewell Performance

Looking southwest along a choppy Hudson River towards Bayonne, New Jersey. 2/10/08, 1:45 PM. Photo: JH.
Very cold last night in New York. In the late afternoon there was a blizzard-like flurry of snow that, alas, lasted all of five minutes.

Yesterday afternoon over at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, the New York City Ballet held a special matinee of the company’s Nikolaj Hubbe in a farewell performance. Mr. Hubbe is retiring from the City Ballet to be the Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet in July. Mr. Hubbe, a native Dane, an elegant dancer known for his exuberance and purity, started studying ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet School at the age of 10 and joined the Royal Danish Ballet in 1986 which he left in 1992 to join the New York City Ballet.

This happens to be not the first time he’d considered the post at the Danish Royal Ballet, having applied for it in 1996. He was turned down at the time and was quite put out about it. His learning of the turn down also happened to be filmed by Danish documentary filmmaker Ulrik Wivel (also a former dancer) who was making a film about Mr. Hubbe called “Dancer.”

Nikolaj Hubbe and Yvonne Borree in "Duo Concertant."
Hubbe’s reaction has been described as a mixture of rage and confusion, as witnessed by all who have seen the documentary. “No, no, no! I’m not going back to Denmark again! That’s over,” he vowed.

Now he is, so to speak, eating his words. Asked about this by New York Times reporter Gia Kourlas, he replied with a laugh, “I know I know. Back then I thought for sure: ‘This is it. I’m history. I’m a pariah. And maybe I was for a couple of years, but I think after I went there and staged ‘La Sylphide’ and taught a bit at the school, little by little they found out I wasn’t a big boogeyman. I think they thought I was a scary person because I’m so severe or extreme. And that is not a Danish trait.”

I met me Mr. Hubbe very briefly last night
at a dinner that Mary Sharp Cronson gave in his honor at the Hotel Carlyle. (Mrs. Cronson’s late brother, Peter Sharp was an owner and president of the hotel. It was sold after his death.) Her daughter-in-law Caroline Cronson who co-hosted with her introduced me to the departing matinee idol of the ballet so that I could take his picture. He’s a very handsome, energetic character, was dressed comfortably in a black suit, white shirt and tie, although I could see he was still coming down from the heights of his afternoon performance. While most everyone else was seated and eating, he was still moving around between the two dining rooms, as if too exuberant to be eating.
Wendy Whelan and Nikolaj Hubbe in "Lan Sonnambula."
I wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of having his picture taken. Of course it’s all for the cause, which I’m sure he knew (the cause being the ballet), and so he was cooperative and charming about it. His is a lively and dynamic personality. I could just imagine him reacting to that turn-down phone call ten years ago. Now the Danish Royal Ballet will have a Master who is not only full of energy but full of new ideas.

The Danish Royal Ballet has its deep traditions set by one August Bournonville in the 19th century. The company has had a “stream of artistic directors” over the past few years. Mr. Hubbe will be expected, hoped for, to last, and to stabilize the company. 

“I know my ambition sometimes gets me into deep water,” he told Ms. Kourlas of the Times, “But I have belief and a little experience, and I’m free.” He also added, “... I think you have to go little by little, like a child. I also think that having me come in is already bold.” So get ready Copenhagen because here he comes!

At forty Mr. Hubbe has reached the age when dancers move away from actively performing into other areas of the ballet or even other fields of endeavor. It is not so unusual when you consider that he’s been dancing already for thirty years.
Caroline Cronson and Nikolaj Hubbe
Nikolaj Hubbe solo
Balletomanes and supporters of the City Ballet will miss him nevertheless. Ballet-goers, like opera-goers, are a solidly loyal audience and take their performers and the performances with deep seriousness and loyalty.

Yesterday afternoon’s performance included four pieces in which he danced – “Apollo” with music by Igor Stravinsky and Choreography by George Balanchine, “Zakouski” with music by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky with choreography by Peter Martins; “Cool” from “West Side Story Suite” by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein; “Western Symphony” music by Hershy Kay and choreography by George Balanchine, in which Mr. Hubbe danced the “Rondo.”

He chose the latter because he said he “wanted to end (my) career in America as a real American cowboy.” And he also staged yesterday afternoon’s performance of “Flower Festival in Genzano” with music by Edvard Helsted and choreography by August Bournonville, the man who set the tradition of the Royal Danish Ballet. “Flower Festival” was danced by Kathryn Morgan and David Prottas.
Last night's farewell dinner at the Carlyle.
Last night’s private farewell at the Carlyle was attended by 200 guests. Unlike many of these cultural après-performance dinners, this was not a fund-raiser, but a gift of Mrs. Cronson who is famously generous as a longtime patron of the City Ballet. She is also the founder and producer of “Works & Process” at the Guggenheim (the performing arts program of the Gugg) where she has been a trustee for 24 years. She also gives a party for all the NYCB dancers every year, although this one was yet another.

Among those attending last night’s farewell dinner were: Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, Andrew and Denise Saul, Adam and Olivia Flatto, Anne Bass and Julian Lethbridge, Gillian Attfield (NYCB Turstee), Helena Christensen (Supper Model, model for Victoria Secret and David Yurman), Lars Ulrich (drummer for the band Mettalica), James Marlas and Marie Nugent Head (NYCB Trustee), Robert Lipp (NYCB Trustee), Tom Gold. Among the dancers attending the dinner were Damian Woetzel, Heather Watts, Marcelo Gomez, Joaquin De Luz, Maria Korowski, Wendy Whalen.
Mary Sharp Cronson and Marcelo Gomez
Jock Soto and Connie Nielsen
Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts
Gillian Atfield and Anne Bass

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