(photo by Paul Kolnick)
Last night I went to the State Theater to hear Nikolaj Hubbe, who is retiring from NYCBallet this month to head The Royal Danish Ballet) give a little interview. Unfortunately I missed Philip, who covered the event in pretty good detail here.
Oh, he’s so good-lucking, and what a fun, charming, good-humored personality! And what a deep, virile, sexy, scratchy voice! … although the scratchiness could have had something to do with a little cold he seemed to have come down with. I hope he’s well for Sunday! He came onstage dressed in tight black jeans and black and white checkered shirt with a big matching scarf wrapped around his throat, and his hair mussed about sexily.
Like the most charismatic people, he’s able to laugh easily at himself. Asked when he realized he wanted to be a dancer, he said, “Well, I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but … well … I always knew I’d be a dancer,” then laughed and kind of rolled his eyes like that couldn’t help but sound pretentious! He knew he wanted to be a dancer when, at four years old, his mother took him to a Nutcracker. But, what he really wanted back then, he said, was to come out of the little trap doors in the floor and ride across stage in the big nutshell (which they had in the Copenhagen version). So, like all little kids, he wanted the theatricality of it all. And at thirty, “I thought I would be a Hollywood star,” he said, then burst out laughing. He seemed really to enjoy making fun of himself at thirty (ten years ago): he later said he had initially applied for the directorship of the Royal Danish at that age but was then turned down. Said with a laugh he “couldn’t believe they turned down me, the Nikolaj Hubbe, haha! I was the Great Dane who (ventured beyond) the Copenhagen border and became famous in America!” But it was all for the best, he said: he needed the ten years to learn to interact with people, to develop as an artist and learn “diplomacy,” to have more international experience, to take his hubris down a (big) notch He needed to “eat humble pie.”
He admitted he’s a slow learner, has problems learning the steps because he’s too analytical, too brooding. I remembered reading an article where the writer, observing a choreographer working with ABT dancers, said David Hallberg seemed to have problems learning new choreography. Hmmm, the best artistically and seemingly the most intellectually sophisticated have the hardest time with new steps… Maybe this sheds light on the difference between an artist and a dancer. Since I’ve been so taken with his dramatic abilities and his expressiveness, I listened carefully when he explained his process. He basically said he used to stress out a lot about how he was going to perform something, how he was going to do a coda or a variation, how to emphasize this, what detail to give that… Finally, he learned to let go of all that, he learned to just know the choreography well, have thought about it deeply well before the performance, and then let go of it all before the show so he could be free to just be in the moment when he was onstage. That way, having no “worries about” or “ambitions” for a piece, you learn to shed your self-consciousness. I kind of understood, although it’s hard for me since I’m not a performer.
Someone in the audience smartly asked him how he interpreted the man’s solo in latter part of SQUARE DANCE, which didn’t involve a lot of dramatics and wasn’t a “story-ballet” to be acted. He thought about it (he was very pensive throughout, taking his time to think out his answers rather than just blurting out whatever came to mind), and said he thought the solo was highly dramatic, in silence and simplicity there can still be huge turmoil, and, though the part was very ‘lyrical’ and ‘poetic’ and all (his vocal inflections on the “lyrical” and “poetic” indicated he wished to think outside of the typical ballet-speak box — I use those words all the time, bad me!!) the solo still wasn’t without its “outbursts.” How I wanted to hear him talk more about all of his roles! Well, I just hope he can impart all of his wisdom to the next generation because he’s leaving a big huge hole here!!!
Speaking of teaching, he said he loves it — it’s all one in the same to him, dance is dance whether it’s performing, teaching, directing, it’s dance and it’s what he lives for.
He also talked about his favorite roles: Sonnambula (the first thing I saw him in ), Apollo (likely the last thing I’ll see him in), Rubies from Jewels, Other Dances, Afternoon of a Faun, West Side Story, Dances at a Gathering (though he initially hated it), Square Dance, he went on and on — basically everything. He even spoke of something Peter Martins choreographed just for him which he hated at first, but once it was taken out of the repertory he loved it and longed to dance it again. Isn’t that how life always is though…
He talked a bit about his partnerships, said he was terrified of the big famous ballerinas when he first arrived in NYC, loved partnering Yvonne Borree because she’s so small and made him feel very big and powerful and protective (he said this with a smile and laugh), he said, raising his eyebrows, that it was “unnerving” to dance with Wendy Whelan, said he was always very alert when partnering her. He said talking about dance partnerships was very “psychological,” like how you work with a certain person, differently with another, says a lot about your own psychology. That I understood
Okay, that’s all I can think of for now. His last day dancing with NYCB will be this Sunday. So sad.