The Royal Danish Ballet

Tradition and heritage are strong words but they fit The Royal Danish Ballet like a glove. They are one of the oldest classical dance troupes in Europe and direct descendants of the Bournonville lineage. With a repertoire that also includes the most prominent choreographers of the 20th century, the Danes have much to be proud of with their home Company.

The Theatre

Combining opera, drama and ballet, The Royal Danish Theatre has long been considered the cultural heart of Copenhagen. Danish theatrical tradition can be traced back to the 18th century and Ludvig Holberg’s comedy series in the Commediehuus (Comedy House) in Lille Grønnegade. Inspired by its success a group of 12 actors, including 1 female and 2 male dancers decided to form a company in 1748. Initially funded by the monarchy, one century later (around 1849) its control passed on to the State.

The Theatre has always stood at Kongens Nytorv but it was shaped by several renovations throughout the years. The original smaller theatre gave room to a new one designed by Danish architect Jens Vilhelm Dahlerup in 1874. This building, together with an adjacent section added in 1931, is now known as Gamle Scene (Old Stage) and houses Ballet including studios, administration offices and workshops. Opera and Theatre now occupy special purpose-built premises, respectively, the New Copenhagen Opera House and the New Royal Danish Playhouse but the 3 art forms are still connected by the same governing body, The Royal Danish Theatre.

The Royal Danish Theatre (Det Kongelige Teater) - The Old Stage. Photo: The Ballet Bag ©

The Company

Dance already existed in Copenhagen before The Royal Danish Theatre was inaugurated but this paved the way for the development of a national dance company. Initially the theatre relied mostly on ballet guest artists from Germany, Italy and France. The creation of The Royal Danish Ballet School in 1771 and the arrival in 1775 of Italian ballet master Vincenzo Galeotti attracted local dancers and a national identity began to flourish. Besides creating over 50 ballets for The Royal Danish Ballet (including the only surviving piece and oldest ballet in the world  The Whims of Cupid and the Ballet Master from 1786), Galeotti introduced the Ballet d’Action in which pantomime was used to advance the plot.

The Bournonville Years

The most famous figure in the history of Danish ballet is August Bournonville, the French ballet master who gave the company its characteristic style and raised its profile. Bournonville created about 50 ballets plus divertissements in operas and plays, working with a variety of themes and genres and developing the use of complex mime. La Sylphide (1836), Napoli (1842) and A Folk Tale (1854) are some of his masterpieces.

Thomas Lund and Gitte Lindstrøm in Bournonville's Abdallah. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne / RDB ©

During his tenure as ballet master, Bournonville supervised the development of generations of dancers, raising their technique standards. Giving male dancers important roles he created a tradition for high standards of male dancing in The Royal Danish Ballet and some of them became historical dance figures.

Bournonville’s successor Hans Beck carried on with that tradition and repertoire. From 1894 until 1915 he programmed revivals of Bournonville ballets which remained popular with the audiences. He also developed the “Bournonville School”, a training programme focused on the preservation of the style which was used by the school until the 30s.

For more on Bournonville and his style read our Dear Mr. Fantasy article [link]

Artists of The Royal Danish Ballet in Bournonville's Napoli. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne / RDB ©

The Royal Danish Ballet: Evolution

1909Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes great dance revolution steamrolls through Europe. They abstain from visiting Copenhagen so the Danish scene remains largely unaffected by the movement.

1925Michael Fokine is invited by The Royal Danish Theatre to stage some of his works (Petroushka, ChopinianaLes Sylphides and selections of Prince Igor) which are well received by the audience.

1930 – Balanchine stages his new piece Apollon Musagète for the company, but the work falls under heavy criticism for being no more than “pure gymnastics”.

1932 – Appointment of Harald Lander as Artistic Director (AD) and beginning of a new era of modernisation, with a view of increasing technical standards. Introduction of Russian Style technique (Vaganova) and new repertoire to challenge the dancers.

1940 – A programme to preserve the Bournonville tradition is implemented, with at least one revival of his productions per year.

1948 – Premiere of Études, the most famous piece by Harold Lander. This iconic ballet is famous for its technical demands; only troupes with the highest standards are capable of dancing it.

Fernando Mora, Gudrun Bojesen, Kenneth Greve and Artists of The Royal Danish Ballet in Lander's Études. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne / RDB ©

1951 - Renowned ballet teacher Vera Volkova arrives and serves as principal teacher for more than 24 years.  She develops future international stars Erik Bruhn, Peter Schaufuss and Peter Martins.

Niels Bjørn Larsen is appointed as AD. RDB adopts a Summer Festival and tours the UK and the US where dancers are praised for their technical and dramatic abilities. Danish male dancers are “discovered” internationally.

1955 – 1961 - Ballets by Ashton (Romeo and Juliet, 1955), Balanchine (Apollo, 1957), Cullberg (Moon Reindeer, 1957 and Miss Julie, 1958), Petit (Carmen, 1960 and Cyrano, 1961) and Robbins are added to the repertoire.

1966Flemming Flindt is appointed AD. He implements a plan to modernise ballet as an art form, to make it appeal to new audiences.

1971 – Flindt’s polemic piece The Triumph of Death is premiered. It features a nude scene and music by Danish rock band Savage Rose.

1968 – 1978 – Modern dance is incorporated to the RDB repertoire, including works by Paul Taylor (Aureole, 1968), José Limón and Glen Tetley, among others.

1974 – First staging of Neumeier’s Romeo and Juliet and the beginning of a long collaboration with this American choreographer.

Susanne Grinder and Kristoffer Sakurai in Neumeier's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne / RDB ©

1978 – Henning Kronstam is appointed AD. Together with Kirsten Ralov (associate AD) they look back at reviving Bournonville tradition.

1979 – The First Bournoville Festival is organised to commemorate the centenary of his death. Within one week the company dances all Bournonville ballets in the repertoire, raising awareness to their tradition.

1985 - 1992Frank Andersen is appointed AD. Under his tenure John Cranko‘s Onegin is staged for the company and the second Bournonville Festival, celebrating the 150 year anniversary of Napoli, takes place.

1994 – 2002 A constant change of Artistic Directors causes turmoil. They include Peter Schaufuss (1994-1995), Johnny Eliasen (1995-1997), Maina Gielgud (1997-1999) and Aage Thordal-Christensen (1999-2002) before Frank Andersen finally starts a second term as AD.

2003 - Kenneth MacMillan‘s Manon is staged in Copenhagen.

2008 – Former Principal dancer Nikolaj Hübbe is appointed AD.

Artists of The Royal Danish Ballet in Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements. Photo: Kyle Froman /RDB ©

The Royal Danish Ballet: Today

Despite the high turnover of ADs in the 90s, the last two decades have seen a continuous flow of new works with a strong narrative component. Broadening the repertoire has allowed dancers to further develop their trademark storytelling and characterisation skills. Brandstrup, Cranko, MacMillan, Neumeier, Ratmansky and Rushton have contributed important full-length works. New productions of Bournonville’s Napoli and A Folk Tale (due to premiere next season) seek to preserve the company’s heritage while making these ballets fresh and relevant to modern audiences.  The company looks reinvigorated under new AD Nikolaj Hübbe.

For a glimpse at the Company and its modern headquarters see our recent photolog [link]

Marie-Pierre Greve, Mogens Boesen in Neumeier's The Little Mermaid. Photo: Henrik Steenberg / RDB ©

The School

The Royal Danish Theatre Ballet School has trained most of RDB’s dancers since the 1770s. Its headquarters are at the Kongens Nytorv theatre, with two provincial departments at Odense and Holstebro. The school integrates both academics and ballet for 6-16 year-olds. It was founded by French dancer Pierre Laurent and reorganized under Bournonville in 1847. It is now funded by the State.

During Harald Lander’s tenure a new training system was implemented and the Bournonville “schooling” was restructured to become a complement to the syllabus. Vera Volkova arrived in the 50s and was credited with improving the technical standards of the school.

Students of The Royal Danish Ballet School. Photo: RDB ©

Out of 250 girls and boys who apply to the Royal Danish Theatre Ballet School every spring, less than 70 are admitted. A further 4-week intensive program sees a dozen accepted as full time students. There are close to 70 students between the ages of 6-17, divided into 7 levels in mixed classes.

The students are often called upon to perform in the company’s ballets. A fourth of them end up as apprentices with the company. They will still go to school but now their classes are taken with the company and they take part in rehearsals, etc. Apprenticeships last two years, with an examination at the end of each year. Only successful apprentices are hired as corps de ballet dancers.

Must-See Danish Ballets

  • Bournonville: La Sylphide, Napoli, The Kermesse in Bruges, Le Conservatoire (Konservatoriet), A Folk Tale  &  The Flower Festival in Genzano.
  • Cullberg’s Miss Julie
  • Lander’s Études
  • Flindt’s The Lesson
  • Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid
  • Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina

Marie-Pierre Greve and Mads Blangstrup in Ratmansky's Anna Karenina. Photo: Henrik Stenberg / RDB ©

Big Danish Ballet Stars

Danseurs: Ib Andersen, Peter Martins, Lloyd Riggins, Børge Ralov, Erik Bruhn, Henning Kronstam, Peter Schaufuss, Nikolaj Hübbe, Thomas Lund, Johan Kobborg.

Ballerinas: Lucile Grahn, Adeline Genée,Margot Lander, Else Højgaard, Sorella Englund, Silja Schandorff

Thomas Lund in Bournonville's Napoli. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne / RDB ©


Sources and Further Information

  1. The Royal Danish Ballet by Aline Storm. Edited by Sofie Rask Andersen and Aline Storm. Published by The Royal Danish Theatre, Copenhagen 2005. ISBN 87-989870-7-0
  2. Royal Danish Ballet Wikipedia entry [link]
  3. The Royal Danish Ballet Website. History. Last Updated April 2009. [link]
  4. The Royal Danish Theatre Ballet School by Kate Snedeker. Ballet-dance Magazine at, May 2004. [link]

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.


  • January 5, 2013

    Nutcracker for the People

    [...] new Nutcracker promising to attract people who might find The Royal Danish Ballet too posh premiered at Tivoli in Copenhagen this season. The bullet points were intriguing: [...]

  • [...] Royal Danish, post do The Ballet Bag, em inglês, aqui. Página sobre August Bournonville, em inglês, aqui. Métodos de ensino do ballet clássico − [...]

  • [...] died a painful death and her James, Thomas Lund, had taken his last steps as a principal dancer of The Royal Danish Ballet in front of a packed [...]

  • October 18, 2012

    Restaged and Revived |

    [...] Along with sharing his staging ideas at Works & Process, Nikolaj will bring along a handful of The Royal Danish Ballet dancers to perform excerpts and members of his creative team, including stage designer Richard [...]

  • [...] when we heard Ratmansky was reviving a Ballets Russes gem for one of our favorite ballet troupes, The Royal Danish Ballet, it was time to set off on yet another voyage to explore his creative and whimsical [...]

  • [...] fall season of the Royal Danish Ballet opens this September with a world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s The Golden Cockerel. Currently [...]

  • May 30, 2012


    Hi Gustavo,

    You should contact RDB directly with your query – here’s their website:

    Good luck,


  • May 26, 2012

    Gustavo Gonzalez

    Tengo una hija de 15 años. Lleva 10 estudiando ballet. Comenzò en el Conservatorio de Praga – 5 años – luego en el COnservatorio de la Opera de VIena y hoy estudia en el Conservatorio de Ballet de BUcarest.
    Puede ingresar al RDB? Cuales serian los requisitos? costos ?
    Puede comenzar en febrero 2013?


  • April 1, 2012


    Hi Anthony,

    We are not a listings site so we don’t know what is on at the moment in Copenhagen, but you may be able to search RDB listings here -> or directly from the company’s own site ->

    Have a lovely trip!

  • March 31, 2012

    Anthony B. Sokol

    We will be in Copenhagen for two nights 7/20 and 7/21/12. What Ballet is featured and how may I obtain tickets?

  • March 3, 2012


    Hej! Jag har 2 döttrar i åldrarna 10 0ch 14 år som har dansat balett sen 3-års åldern. Jag är intresserad av att hitta information till Royal Danish Theatre Ballet School. Har ni sommarläger?? I så fall hur söker man till det?
    Hur går jag till väga om vi vill söka in? Det har varit svårt att hitta information om detta. Jag hittar mest information om vilka baletter som går mm

    Tacksam för svar
    Mvh Belinda

  • January 1, 2012


    2 hours 20 minutes with two intervals.

  • December 31, 2011

    Rajan Sokhi

    What is the duration of The Royal Danish Ballet’s Napoli?

  • [...] the RDB now prepares for its US tour which kicks off 24 May and includes performances of A Folk Tale (in [...]

  • February 26, 2011

    Swan Lake

    [...] – 1999 – Peter Martins choreographs a new full-length Swan Lake for the Royal Danish Ballet with costumes and settings by famous Danish painter Per Kirkeby. This production is “after [...]

  • December 15, 2010


    Dear Robert

    Here are RDB’s contact details available from their Official Website:

    Hope this helps and that you are able to send Caroline her flowers!

  • December 15, 2010

    Robert Barnett

    I would be helpful for those of us that live outside your country, if you would include the mailing address of the theaters in your web-site. I have been trying for two days to send flowers to Caroline Cavallo on of the ballarinas of the Royal Danish Ballet in honor of her retirement and the flowers can not be delivered without a complete address. Thank you

  • [...] choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created The Wanderers for The Royal Danish Ballet in 2008. This season the Company commissioned him to do a completely new version of The Sleeping [...]

  • [...] was formerly a principal at the National Ballet of Canada and then joined The Royal Danish Ballet in 2008. He made the move to The Royal Ballet this season appearing in three one-act ballets, as [...]

  • March 31, 2010

    Twitter and Ballet

    [...] ballet companies which were not very active in social media have now embraced it. One example is The Royal Danish Ballet, now on Facebook and also tweeting – albeit in Danish. Some of the “headstarters” [...]

  • March 7, 2010

    I capricci di Cupido « Pioggia di note…sui danzatori

    [...]  Qui trovate un ulteriore notevole approfondimento sul Balletto Reale Danese. [...]