The Bournonville style is marked by its use of épaulement and quick footwork. Former Royal Danish Ballet dancer and San Francisco Ballet soloist Peter Brandenhoff explains that at the peak of the grand jeté, it should look as if the torso is sitting atop the legs, unaffected, and the narrow second position of the arms should be presentational—like you’re “giving a little tray of petit fours to the teacher,” he says.
We’ve got the history behind this move and the man for whom this style of ballet is named, too:
To preserve August Bournonville’s technique, Hans Beck (a successor of his at the Royal Danish Ballet) assembled six daily classes—one for each day of the week, except Sundays—from Bournonville’s teaching and choreography. Each class follows a typical ballet class structure, with barre work followed by adagio, tendu, pirouette, allégro and batterie exercises devised specially by Bournonville. Beck also made sure to include pertinent excerpts from Bournonville ballets in each daily class.
Until 1951, this schedule was used for training at the Royal Danish Ballet School. (Its main flaw was its lack of surprise.) Now, Bournonville’s original technique is mixed with Russian, Anglo and English styles.
The Royal Danish Ballet performs Bournonville’s A Folk Tale at the 2005 Bournonville Festival. Photo by Martin Mydstkov Rønne, courtesy of RDB.
Bournonville’s choreography features virtuosic male solos, filled with strength and ballon. This was unusual for its time; male dancers were little more than support for the ballerinas. He also skillfully blended mime and dance in his work for a well-rounded theater experience.
In the Bournonville method, the head and upper body always follow the working leg. Despite the brilliant, fast footwork of the feet, the upper body displays ease. The essence of this style is lightness.