Two days ago I had a fun evening with fellow ballet lover Jia to see the wonderful American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Alban Lendorf in a Q&A session. It was quite enlightening as he explained to the audience how the Bournonville style, in which he was trained back home in Denmark, differs from other styles of ballet. Jia has seen him perform and holds a high regard for his dancing. I haven’t seen him perform yet but now I look forward to doing that in future ABT shows. During the Q&A session, he answered many questions from Keith Roberts, a Ballet Master at ABT, followed by questions from the audience.
One of the revelations was about Alban’s early start in piano studies. His picked up the piano at the age of 4. One day, when his had difficulty getting the waltz rhythm right while playing Chopin, his teacher suggested little Alban to go and take some dance classes. It was at this time that his mother enthusiastically said, “Ballet! Yes, he’s going to take ballet class!” So it was music that led him to dance.
At 11, he was kind of a late starter in ballet. But his talent propelled him to a trajectory to the top rank in the ballet world very quickly. First at the Royal Danish Ballet, he joined as an apprentice at 16 and became corps de ballet dancer at 18. He was promoted to soloist two years later and principal at 21. But his curiosity and desire for expansion pushed him to try his luck in New York. He was invited by former ABT Artistic Director Nikolaj Hübbe—a fellow Dane—to dance with the company in 2013 when he was 23. Recognizing his talent, Hübbe threw at him all the big roles that he had never danced before, such as Basilio in Don Quixote and Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty. Alban found himself being tested to the limit by taking on a multitude of big roles within an extremely short period of time. For Basilio, for instance, he only had four days to rehearse. Understandably, he had the tremendous pressure of filling the same role danced by the world’s most iconic male dancers who danced Basilio on the very same stage before him. But eventually none of these challenges fazed him. He proved himself not just a worthy dancer but, in Hübbe’s eyes, “the best dancer to come out of the RDB School in 50 years.” He even compared Alban to Baryshnikov and Nureyev. At the age of 25, Alban landed the venerable title of ABT principal dancer.
It was music that has led Alban to dance, and it is also music that has brought him back to his true self. Today, he can be found playing incredibly beautiful piano during his moments of leisure. His talent beyond ballet is recognized by the company and recently, he was invited to perform in the Steinway Hall in an occasion to celebrate the company’s Dancer Sponsors. Click [here] to see a clip of him playing Rachmaninov’s “Prelude in C Sharp Minor.” His passion for music and his experience of it as pure joy has taught him that he needs to approach dance the same way—do it for himself and his own pleasure, rather than for extrinsic approval of others.
Alban has a sense of humor that may not be readily understood by Americans. He talked about how he prefers to not show everything and reveal just enough to keep the audience interested for more… “like wearing underwear, you know.” The audience laughed, but some didn’t really understand and asked “why hold back?”
Alban does appreciate how the American audience doesn’t hold back when it comes to giving applause and accolades during performances. In Denmark, he said, the audience would remain silent and [chilly] and hold back until the very end of the show to clap their hands. Obviously he prefers the American warmth and enthusiasm!
As a balletomane, I also appreciate the openness in showing and showering emotions inside the theater. Not only inside though. I also found a greater sense of freedom to chat with total strangers who share the same enthusiasm as I have for ballet. After this Q&A session, my new-found friend Jia and I chatted with two other ballet lovers and we just couldn’t stop! It felt amazing to be able to talk about all the intricate details and latest news in the ballet world among us without having to explain anything… as if we had some “insiders’ knowledge.” New York is certainly the Dance Capital of the World and a wonderful place for ballet lovers to be.
See Alban’s amazing footwork, typical of a Bournonville-trained dancer:
Here is a short TV commercial featuring Alban, made for a Danish mobile phone company:
Alban has even dabbled in film by playing a cameo role in the movie “Walk with Me,” directed by Swedish filmmaker Lisa Ohlin.