In his native Europe, Johan Kobborg is a ballet superstar.
Thanks to his friendship with Sarasota Ballet Director Iain Webb, the 39-year-old Royal Ballet principal is becoming a household name here, as well.
Kobborg, a frequent guest artist, is setting this weekend’s “Salute” on the Sarasota Ballet triple bill, “Made in America.” “Made in America,” which features George Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” Will Tuckett’s “Spielende Kinder” and Kobborg’s “Salute,” runs Friday, Jan. 27 through Monday, Jan. 30, at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
What makes ‘Salute’ special?
It’s a salute to my past in Denmark as a dancer. It’s a nod to my schooling and the tradition of dancing there. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Bournonville (the former choreographer of the Royal Danish Ballet), so it’s a salute to him as well. The Danish way of interacting on stage is very specific; it’s naturalistic in a way.
When you have two people interacting on stage, you want the relationship to appear completely normal. It’s like when you watch some operas and the singing is fantastic, but the two people don’t seem to be in love. It has to look and feel natural.
How has working with Sarasota Ballet differed from your experience with other companies?
I think the dancers have amazing personalities. There’s such a great atmosphere in the company. The vibe between the dancers is great. It has a special sort of family feel to it, and I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve had a fantastic time with the people here. The thing I find interesting is having a bunch of new dancers, whom I’ve never seen perform before, make the (ballet) work for them. Even though you’ve got your idea of how it should be, how certain steps should go, it’s really about molding it on specific dancers and allowing them to make suggestions.
So, you’re not the rigid choreographer-type?
I’m very open. Maybe it’s because I’m still a dancer myself. I realize it’s very important that the dancers enjoy being out there. If that means coming up with something differently technically, I’m happy to make changes.
How has your dancing changed as you’ve gotten older?
I’m at a great place right now because physically I can still do what I want to do, but I bring a different depth to roles now (39). I know a lot of dancers who felt they had to stop performing certain ballets when they reached the age I’m at now. So far, I’ve been really lucky to keep going. I think as a dancer, as you get older, the minute you stop performing those very classical ballets, you quickly lose your physicality. The classical ballets are so demanding and so hard to perform well. If you don’t keep doing those, I feel you lose something. That’s why I’m happy to keep at it.
How did you meet Iain Webb?
I met him back when I was dancing in the Royal Danish Ballet. It was like 1992 and we were at a dance festival. Since then we’ve become very close friends. I was very excited when I heard he got the job in Sarasota. I told him if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.
How do you think the company has fared under his leadership?
Whenever I show other people the kind of repertoire (Sarasota Ballet) is doing, they’re really amazed by it. You don’t find companies of this size doing such varied ballets. I know the dancers appreciate it, and I hope the rest of Sarasota realizes it. In the dance world, what’s happening here is quite a rare thing.
What do you do when you’re not dancing?
(Laughs.) I don’t have time for hobbies. Well, that’s not entirely true. I love making music on my computer. That’s the one thing I can do when I’m in an airplane.
You’ve got the same birthday as my 7-month-old son –– June 5. Is the Gemini split-personality thing true?
It’s very good, in a way, to be a Gemini. Things are never boring. When you’re with a Gemini, it’s like you’re having a conversation with two different people. I’m always surprised by the amount of Geminis in the dance world.
Off stage, Johan Kobborg is as known for his good looks and charisma as he is his signature skull cap. “I’ve always worn one,” says the dancer. “It’s a style thing.”
As a child growing up in Denmark, Kobborg trained to be an operatic tenor. However, by 16 he gave up singing to study ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet School –– a late start for many professional ballet dancers.
In 1995, Kobborg suffered a prolapsed disc. The injury put him out of commission for a year. It was the only injury that ever halted his dancing.
Kobborg is a master at beating his legs, otherwise known as “battements.” Says the dancer, “I can wake up in the middle of the night and do my beats.”
Kobborg is known for dancing traditional leading man roles, or, as they’re called in the ballet word, “danseur noble.” In his career, he’s notched more than 30 productions of “Giselle.”