ROYAL SWEDISH BALLET
There are only three older ballet companies in the world, those of Paris, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg. Sweden got its first professional ballet company when King Gustaf III founded a Swedish Opera in Stockholm in 1773. Theatre was the king's great passion, and he loved acting and writing his own plays. In only a few months after the Opera's opening the French ballet master Louis Gallodier had managed to summon an ensemble numbering thirty dancers.
The dancers of the Opera not only promised to become quite good but also became quite numerous. Already in 1786 the company numbered an impressive 71 dancers The king paid enormous fees in order to tempt distinguished dancers to come to Stockholm. Noverre's pupil Antoine Bournonville was one of the most famous. He came to Stockholm in 1782 and took the Swedish audiences by surprise with his technique, physical beauty and charisma. Foreign visitors of the time report of the splendid Gustavian theatre life, and the ballet company in particular. The Royal Swedish Ballet was, already from the early stages of its existence, an ensemble with a rich dramatic capacity. That kind of dancers were also the ones whom Gustaf III attracted to his Opera, and dramatic ballet can to this day be said to be the strength of the company.
During the reign of Gustaf III Stockholm became a European metropolis of ballet, the company attained international fame and the ballet company was so vital that it by no means perished with the king's demise in 1792. During the first decades of the 19th century the Swedish ballet still stayed in frequent contact with France, and the Italian Filippo Taglioni was active as a dancer and choreographer in a couple of turns. Taglioni's daughter Marie - a future star of international ballet - was born in Stockholm in 1804.
The romantic movement's great interest in folklore was reflected in the repertoire, based on Swedish folk dance, which was created by the young and talented dancer and choreographer Anders Selinder. The romantic strains of ballet also confronted the Stockholm public through ballets like La Sylphide and Giselle, the latter of which came to Stockholm a mere four years after the premiere in Paris.
August Bournonville spent several periods in Stockholm and between 1861 and 1864 he was employed at the Royal Opera as director and producer. When he left the theatre it experienced a downfall, just like the one at several other European companies at that time. The renaissance of European ballet was to come some years into the 20th century and the impulses then came from the free dance and from Diaghilev's Russian Ballet in Paris. The American barefoot dancer Isadora Duncan was seen in Stockholm in 1906 and in 1908 a visit by a group of dancers from the imperial ballet of St. Petersburg with Anna Pavlova as its leading star was a great success. One year later they travelled to Paris under the directorship of Serge Diaghilev and created that revolution which ballet in the west badly needed. Four years later the leading choreographer of the Russian Ballet, Michel Fokine, arrived in Stockholm and created a similar revolution. There were even plans to establish a rival company to the Ballets Russe, with the Swedish dancers lead by Fokine. But the first world war came in between and only in 1920 the idea came to fruition, but then without Fokine. In his stead one of his Swedish pupils, Jean Börlin, became principal choreographer and the wealthy young art collector Rolf de Maré took on a role similar to Diaghilev's for the company. The Swedish Ballet in Paris existed for five hectic and intensive years, 1920 - 1925, and got a central position in the new art of its time.
In Sweden modern dance grew strong during the nineteen thirties and -forties. Among the many young talents to appear then can be mentioned Birgit Åkesson, Birgit Cullberg and Ivo Cramér. These choreographers were also engaged by the Royal Swedish Opera to create a new national repertoire when the ballet was relighted in the nineteen fifties. The reform work was begun at the end of the forties by Antony Tudor, and with Birgit Cullberg's sensational ballet Miss Julie the art of ballet regained the attention of the public. This heralded a renaissance for the ballet which begun in earnest when the English ballet master Mary Skeaping came to Stockholm in 1953 to stage Swan Lake and got the Swedish company to escalate to a new level of professionalism. Skeaping remained as ballet director for almost ten years, and built a repertoire of classics as well as contemporary ballets created for the company by Swedish choreographers. At the Drottningholm Court Theatre Mary Skeaping also gave the Swedes a unique repertoire of ballets in historical styles. This work has later been carried on by Ivo Cramér and Regina Beck-Friis.
In modern times the Swedish dancers' particular talent for dramatic ballet has been exploited not only by national chorographers, but also by many internationally renowned artists, ranging from Antony Tudor to Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier. The full length narrative ballets by Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko have also suited the company to perfection, as have the modern styles of movement by, for example, Glen Tetley or William Forsythe.
The versatility in a national dance company of today is the profound vision the Artistic Director Johannes Öhman since 2011 and has somewhat become a signature for the Royal Swedish Ballet. To one evening master a 19th century full length classics such as Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Onegin, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote and to the next evening to step into Mats Ek versions of Swan Lake and Juliet and Romeo, then forward into the world of Alexander Ekman, Johan Inger, Pontus Lidberg and further on to works by Sasha Waltz, Sharon Eyal, Emanuel Gatt and Roy Assaf.
All in line with the intention of Gustaf III.
“Honour our past while nourishing the future”