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August Bournonville’s Passage 1: A Danish Ballet Gem

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August Bournonville’s Passage 1 – A Masterpiece of Danish Ballet

Danish ballet has a rich history that spans over two centuries. From the early days of the Royal Danish Ballet in the 18th century to the present day, Danish ballet has produced many great dancers, choreographers and ballets. Among them, August Bournonville’s ballets stand out for their unique style, technique and beauty. One of his most famous ballets is the Passage 1, which premiered in Copenhagen in 1861. In this article, we will discuss the history, style and significance of August Bournonville’s Passage 1, and its enduring legacy in Danish ballet.

History of August Bournonville and Passage 1

August Bournonville was born in Copenhagen in 1805. His father was French, and his mother was Danish. He began his ballet training at the Royal Danish Ballet School when he was ten years old. After several years of studying in France and Italy, he returned to Copenhagen in 1830 and became a soloist at the Royal Danish Ballet.

Bournonville was soon recognized as a gifted choreographer, and his first ballet, Valdemar Sejr, premiered in Copenhagen in 1836. Over the following years, he created many ballets that became the foundation of the Royal Danish Ballet’s repertoire. His style was characterized by a focus on the dancers’ technical skills, especially their footwork, and a preference for simple, elegant choreography over flashy, acrobatic movements.

In 1861, Bournonville created Passage 1. The ballet was set to music by Holger Simon Paulli, a Danish composer and conductor, and the libretto was written by Adolph Nyman. The ballet tells a story of a group of people who are traveling through a mountain pass. Along the way, they encounter various obstacles and challenges, but they eventually reach their destination, a beautiful valley.

Passage 1 was an instant success when it premiered. The critics praised its beautiful choreography, music and story, and the public loved its romantic and adventurous spirit. The ballet quickly became a staple of the Royal Danish Ballet’s repertoire and has been performed regularly ever since.

Style and Technique of Passage 1

Passage 1 is a classical ballet, which means it adheres to the traditional form and technique of ballet. However, Bournonville’s style is unique and distinct from the French and Russian styles that dominate classical ballet. Bournonville’s style emphasizes lightness, grace, and elegance in the dancers’ movements. His choreography is known for its intricate footwork, value on precision and musicality, which elevates the dancers’ skill and expression.

Passage 1 incorporates many elements of Bournonville’s style. The ballet’s choreography is full of intricate steps, syncopated rhythms, and fast footwork. The dancers’ movements are light and airy, and their jumps are graceful and effortless. The male dancers often perform batterie, a series of jumps in which the feet cross and uncross quickly, demonstrating high technicality and athleticism of the dancers.

Another hallmark of Bournonville’s style is the emphasis on acting and expression. In Passage 1, the dancers not only demonstrate their technical abilities but also portray the characters’ emotions and inner lives. This allows the audience to connect with the characters and the story and creates a deeper, more meaningful experience of the ballet.

Importance of Passage 1 in Danish Ballet

Passage 1 is significant not only for its artistic achievement but also for its cultural and historical significance. The ballet is often seen as a quintessentially Danish work, as it incorporates elements of Danish folklore, mythology, and landscapes into its story and style.

The mythological figure of the siren, a creature that lures travelers to their doom with her beautiful voice, appears as a principal character in Passage 1. This motif has roots in Danish folklore, and its inclusion in the ballet reinforces the connection between the ballet and Danish culture.

The ballet’s portrayal of a journey through a mountain pass also reflects the Danish people’s historical and cultural experience. Denmark is a small country with a rugged, mountainous terrain that has historically presented challenges for travelers and inhabitants alike. Passage 1’s depiction of the triumph over the difficulties of the journey resonates with Danish audiences and has become a symbol of Danish resilience and perseverance.

Finally, Passage 1 is important to Danish ballet because it embodies the best of the Bournonville style. Bournonville’s style has had a lasting influence on Danish ballet technique and style, and Passage 1 is a testament to his mastery of this style. The ballet has been performed countless times since its premiere, and it continues to inspire new generations of dancers and choreographers.


Q: How long is Passage 1?

A: The length of Passage 1 varies depending on the production and the individual interpretation, typically lasting between 1hr 15 to 1hr 30 minutes.

Q: Where can I see a performance of Passage 1?

A: The Royal Danish Ballet performs Passage 1 regularly at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen. However, the ballet is also performed by many other ballet companies around the world.

Q: Can beginners attend a performance of Passage 1?

A: Yes, anyone who loves ballet can enjoy a performance of Passage 1. The ballet’s music, choreography, and story are accessible to all audiences.

Q: Is Passage 1 considered a difficult ballet to perform?

A: Passage 1 is challenging for dancers, primarily because of its intricate footwork and fast-paced choreography. However, it is also highly rewarding to perform because of its beauty and expressiveness.

Q: What makes Passage 1 unique compared to other classical ballets?

A: Passage 1 is unique because of its incorporation of Danish folklore and mythology into its story and style. It is also renowned for its graceful, delicate choreography and emphasis on acting and expression.


August Bournonville’s Passage 1 is a masterpiece of Danish ballet that has endured for over a century. The ballet’s elegant choreography, beautiful music, and heartfelt story have made it a beloved favorite of Danish audiences and ballet lovers around the world. The ballet reflects the best of Bournonville’s style and technique and embodies the enduring spirit of Danish culture and resilience. It is a testament to the power of ballet to transcend time and place and connect deeply with the human experience.

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