Stockholm 59° North: Soloists of the Royal Swedish Ballet
Stockholm 59° North: Soloists of the Royal Swedish Ballet had its world debut at the Pillow in 1997 under the artistic direction of Madeleine Onne. Onne had first appeared at Jacob’s Pillow in 1983, making her U.S. debut in three pas de deux with the ABT Principal (and fellow Swede) Johan Renvall.
Onne had the idea for 59° North when she was performing with the Royal Swedish Ballet, a company of 75 dancers. She approached Frank Andersen, then the artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, with the idea of putting together a small touring ensemble. Andersen readily agreed. (Andersen, formerly of the Royal Danish Ballet, knew of the importance of a touring ensemble. A small group from the Royal Danish Ballet made its U.S. debut at Jacob’s Pillow in 1955 and Andersen had revived this group of Danes in 1976.)
Onne, who is one of only five women to hold the title of “Dancer of the Swedish Royal Court,” led the other dancers of Stockholm 59° North in a shared mission to present works by Swedish choreographers, or works made on the Royal Swedish Ballet, getting their work out into the world. In their first Pillow engagement, they performed dances by Swedish choreographers Mats Ek, Orjan Andersson, and Birgit Cullberg, Finnish choreographer Kenneth Kvarnström, and U.S. choreographer Ulysses Dove. Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven (1993) was commissioned by the Royal Swedish Ballet and had only been seen in a single U.S. performance prior to the Pillow season. Dance, for Dove, was a marriage of form and feeling. He made this dance, the most personal piece he had ever done, in order to come to terms with loving people and then losing them. Both the Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet have also performed Dove’s dance at the Pillow.
Hong Kong Ballet
Onne, who went on to become the artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, left Sweden in 2009 to become the artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet.
Hong Kong Ballet had its Pillow debut in 2012 and returned in 2014, dancing works by choreographers from Spain, Canada, Russia, Germany and Poland, the Netherlands and China, with dancers from all over the world. In his PillowNotes for the printed program, scholar Philip Szporer noted Onne’s vision for the company, as she stated in an interview with ballet.magazine, “It is essential for HKB to build a unique repertoire to attract interest abroad and thus be able to tour.” Szporer went on to say that “she has pledged to support new choreographic talent and help them grow artistically, all the while maintaining the company’s technical standard of excellence.” And indeed, she achieved those goals and more in her eight years in charge of the company. In August 2018, Onne began the newest chapter of her career, which returns to her Nordic roots: she is the Artistic Director of the Finnish National Ballet.