EL CAJON — Danish dancer Dinna Bjorn has vivid memories of her first major tour with the Royal Danish Ballet. The year was 1965, and the prestigious company was dazzling San Diego balletomanes with its sunny Bournonville style of classical dance.
Bjorn will be back in the San Diego area Saturday with a small cadre of soloists from the internationally renowned troupe. This time, Bjorn is a soloist and choreographer with the world's leading repository of Bournonville dances. But her enthusiasm for the pair of performances at the East County Performing Arts Center on Saturday (at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) appears to be as high as it was during her novice days in the corps.
"The San Diego audience was wonderful," she recalled. "I'll never forget it, because it was my first big tour. We were in Los Angeles in 1983, and we'd love to dance there again. But this concert is going to be very special to me."
Bjorn and Frank Anderson, the current director of the Royal Danish Ballet, established the spinoff ensemble in 1976 as a haven for Royal Danish dancers who wished to stay on their toes during the company's long summer respite. The mini-ensemble will number 11 this time--a mere sampling of the 100 dancers who make up the full company.
"When you have 100 members, you can only go to big places. We wanted to show our dances to everyone," Bjorn said. "Anyway, our traditional summer holiday of two months is too long for a dancer to stay away from work. This was a good way to stay in shape."
Bjorn and Anderson had another reason for creating their "little group."
"We wanted to preserve (August) Bournonville's work," Bjorn said. "We only have 10 Bournonville ballets left in the repertory, and he made about 50. (Bournonville) didn't like some of them, so they were not performed. And since these works are over 100 years old, the choreography was lost.
"We're looking for the notes Bournonville left so we can reconstruct them, and we're finding many of these notations in the Royal Copenhagen Library. I haven't even tried to find the full-length ballets yet, but some of the divertissements we reconstructed will be on our program Saturday."
Local aficionados will see snippets from the opera "Troubador," which Bjorn recently choreographed, after the master's original designs.
"We have the solo from 'Troubador' and also 'The Dance of the Three Graces,' " which is from "The Muses of the Native Country," dating to 1840, Bjorn said. "We also have 'Dance of Joy,' created by Bournonville's most famous pupil, Hans Beck," a former director of the Royal Danish Ballet.
"We're doing some demi-character dancing," she said, adding that both the exhilarating "Jockey Dance" (1876) and the hearty "Polka Militaire" (1842) are danced in boots.
Bournonville dances abound with long buoyant leaps that flow into one another in waves of unbroken movement, airy ports de bras, and speedy shifts of direction. And nobody but the Danes can dance these designs with such easy virtuosity and unbridled vitality.
"It takes different preparations to dance the Bournonville style," Bjorn said. "The jumps are put together differently--as if they're all linked together--so they look easy, but they're not.
"Not until recently did American dancers have access to these techniques. It was a very special treasure for the Danes. Only in the last 10-15 years have we started to give it out, and American dancers often have difficulty with the Bournonville style. But we have problems with Balanchine, too. The training is so different."
There is one contemporary piece. " 'Septet Extra' is a funny ballet choreographed by Hans van Manen," Bjorn said. "In the last 20 to 25 years, (the Royal Danish Ballet) has added a lot of modern works. We just had a ballet created for us by Alvin Ailey. It doesn't look the same as when the Ailey dancers do it, because our technique is different."
According to East County Performing Arts Center's new general manager, Doreen Bauman, the Saturday performances will usher in a new era of activity for the El Cajon facility.
Nanette Fabray (a San Diego native) will try out her new one-woman show here on July 18 and 19. In the fall the center will kick off an Arts Alive series that boasts a visit from the critically acclaimed Guthrie Theater, the Peking Acrobats, Ballet Espanol de Madrid, Mel Torme and Peter Maxwell's Ballroom Dance Theater among its attractions.