Architectural mecca. Third most populous city in the US. Musical hub for jazz and blues. Chicago looms large in the American imagination for its outsized cultural contribution to the American story. It therefore comes as no surprise that The Second City is one of the six selected locations for Denmark’s Danish Arts in the USA initiative — a four-year campaign bringing Danish music, design, and performing arts to cultural institutions throughout the country.
Enter Kompagni B: a Danish dance company made up of 23 young dancers from Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Ballet School and the world’s first ballet company “for, with and by children.”
From June 11th to June 20th, Kompagni B will unveil a series of cultural exchanges and workshops across Chicago with partners ranging from the Chicago Public Library to the Joel Hall Dance Youth Company. The purpose? Building up a powerful legacy of youth empowerment by putting children and young adults “front and center.”
Ahead of their Chicago series of engagements and exchanges, Denmark In New York spoke with Kompagni B founder and Artistic Director Ann Crosset about her expectations for the ballet company’s Chicago trip and her company’s devotion to youth.
Tell us a little bit about Kompagni B. What is it exactly and what is its relationship to the Royal Danish Ballet?
Kompagni B was established in 2009 to help resolve some of the issues the theatre and the ballet school were facing at that time: a lack of boys as dancers, an older public, and not enough kids auditioning. The first couple of years it drove the more traditional dancers and teachers at the theatre a bit crazy. But when dancers from Kompagni B began performing with the adult company the results were felt immediately and now it’s a darling of the Ballet. As of this season, Kompagni B is now fully established as part of the theatre’s annual budget and will no longer be dependent on donor money.
What distinguishes Kompagni B from other dance companies?
It’s the world’s first and, to my knowledge, still the only ballet company that places kids up front and center. In the ballet world, it’s adults who traditionally teach the style and make all decisions for the next generation of dancers. In Kompagni B, however, the kids learn the traditions by flipping that setup — the adults become the support crew for the kids as the define their art, their wishes for repertory, their choreography, and their performances.
Kompagni B dancers will soon be landing in Chicago for a cross-cultural exchange. Tell us a little bit about this initiative and what you think will be achieved.
Five dancers from Ballet Chicago and 14 dancers from Joel Hall Dance Youth Company have been introducing themselves, working together, and rehearsing with the Kompagni B kids since February. So I am expecting joy, fireworks, and some very fascinating rehearsals and performances as a result.
With the world famous Joffrey and Ballet Chicago, Chicago is certainly a dance mecca in the US. Beyond this dance connection, however, why is Chicago a great city for Kompagni B to exhibit itself in?
First off, Chicago. Oh my, yes! It certainly has a rich dance history even though it’s perhaps not as known as New York or San Fransico. And yet Chicago is also home to the Joel Hall Dance Company, Hubbard Street, Ruth Page School and many, many new smaller companies and the birth place and work place of dance legends like Doris Humphrey, Bob Fosse and Maria Tallchief. So the dance temperature is right but, more important for Kompagni B, there are passionate talented teens to interact with. And, on an equally important note, there places that are excited to produce this endeavour such as the Chicago Public Library , Chicago Public Parks, and the Danish Home. There are also adults interested to learn more about the Kompagni B way of working and share their knowledge with us, including Ballet Chicago, Joel Hall Youth Company and South Side YMCA
What do you hope will be the end result of Kompagni B’s engagements in Chicago?
We hope the end result will be three fold for the Kompagni B kids: to develop them as performers and deliver on the highest possible level; to expose them to a new culture through work and teach them to respect differences and appreciate even more what they have in Denmark; and to hold on to these valuable personal connections.
I also hope that as a result others in Chicago become inspired by the effects of this model — that is, of placing kids “front and center” and seeing if they can incorporate some of our philosophy into their work with kids and their art. No matter what, we’re looking forward and very curious to see how good we can make this.
Ema Seferovic is the Press and Communications Intern at DenmarkInNY.