Danish Dancer Kobborg Takes New Role with Sarasota Ballet

By Megan McDonald January 23, 2012

Johan Kobborg

Johan Kobborg is one of the world’s premier ballet dancers, but he’s in town to perform the role of choreographer  for the Sarasota  Ballet.

Wearing  jeans, a pullover and a baseball cap, Kobborg stared intently as  company members  danced his  “Salute”  in the rehearsal studio a few days ago.  The piece, which he created  for the North Carolina School of the Arts in 2009, will be performed  along with George Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations and  Will Tuckett’s Kinder Games  next weekend at the FSU Center.

Now a principal with England’s Royal Ballet, the Danish-born Kobborg was  for many years  a star of the Royal Danish Ballet. There, he became renowned as the foremost interpreter of the work of  the esteemed Danish choreographer  Auguste Bournonville.

Salute pays tribute to the Danish style.  “But I wanted to see if I could that traditional, classical style of moving and dancing and make it new,” Kobborg said.

The piece has 10 sections, and includes solos and pairings for three and four dancers as well as the entire ensemble.  Though it is not strictly a story ballet, “gradually a story line emerges,” Kobborg said. “It’s basically about soldiers and their girlfriends, about young people coming together.”

Kobborg and Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb have known each other  for 20 years, and they teased one another as only old friends can during a “Backstage” talk at the Historic Asolo earlier this month.

“Let’s start at the beginning,”  said the 52-year-old Webb as the program started.  “Yours or mine?” quipped the 39-year-old Kobborg. “Because that’s a different decade.”

Kobborg began choreographing only three years ago. “I always had lots of ideas, but I never had the time before,” he said.  “But I love getting an idea and bringing it to life, figuring out how I can get it out of myself and get it into somebody else’s body and brain.”

He described himself as a collaborative choreographer who welcomes input from dancers. “I want the dancers to be happy,” he said. “If they come up with something different  that would have a greater impact, then I’m open.”

Smiling shyly, he joked that he hoped no Sarasota Ballet dancers were in the audience to hear his admission. But  several  hands shot up from the dancers in the back of the room. And later,  the dancers told me Kobborg  was indeed as  open and encouraging as he implied. They are clearly thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from someone of his stature.

Singing the Praises of Cirque des Voix

Last year, I described the partnership between Circus Sarasota and Key Chorale on Cirque des Voix as the collaboration of the year among arts groups.  Well, I know it’s early, but I’m prepared to give them the award again.

This year’s Cirque des Voix  performances, under the big red-and-white  Circus Sarasota tent on 12th street, were even more enthralling than last year’s.  The drama began with the opening act of fire-eaters and twirlers, accompanied by the 90-member chorus and a  live orchestra performing the powerful O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

The thrills and comic moments didn’t let up until the grand finale, when Tino Wallenda and the Great Wallendas performed their nerve-wracking high-wire act as the singers and musicians added to the tension with stirring music from Jurassic Park and Gladiator.

The Wallendas are known for working without a net, by the way. But not during these performances. That’s because the members of the Sarasota Orchestra, who were playing directly underneath them,  “do not work without a net, “ noted  Key Chorale artistic director Joseph Caulkins,  who once again was hilarious and brimming with enthusiasm in his dual role as conductor and ringmaster.

Full disclosure: I’m a Key Chorale board member, and I’ve never been prouder to be associated with this innovative, boundary-pushing organization.  And I’m so pleased they’ve forged such a great partnership with another community treasure, Circus Sarasota.

“Hardball” Host Chris Matthews Gets Warm Tampa Reception

Hardball's Chris Matthews

Who would have thought that the rumpled, pugnacious, left-leaning host of MSNBC’s Hardball would be greeted like a rockstar in Tampa days before the GOP primary?

But Chris Matthews got a roaring ovation from an excited crowd of about 500 when he ambled into a Tampa Tribune meeting room Saturday for a lecture and book-signing.  The crowd was far too big for the room, so many people stood in the back and sat in the aisles. When Matthews took the podium, he invited those standing to sprawl out on the stage, and several dozen people did.

Most of his remarks focused on his new best-seller,  Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. But Matthews also covered the news of the day.  Noting that the Florida primary was just 10 days away, he said, “You guys are the epicenter of the political universe.”  There probably weren’t many Republicans in the audience, but, grinning broadly, Matthews urged everyone to vote for Newt Gingrich, “just to keep the entertainment value high for guys like me.”

Rolling up his sleeves and clearly enjoying himself,  the gregarious Matthews talked for nearly an hour without notes about his Irish-Catholic upbringing in Philadelphia, his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer and his work for such legendary Washington figures as Tip O’Neill.  His speaking style is rambling and disjointed, but his obvious passion for politics – and for America – made this a compelling encounter.

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