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Interview with Erik Bruhn, 1968

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Interview with Erik Bruhn, 1968
Additional title: Selma Jeanne Cohen Papers of Dance Perspectives
Bruhn, Erik, 1928-1986 (Interviewee)
Cohen, Selma Jeanne, 1920-2005 (Interviewer)

Dance Audio Archive

Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1968-06-19 - 1968-08-08
Library locations
Jerome Robbins Dance Division
Shelf locator: *MGZTCO 3-3001
Bruhn, Erik, 1928-1986
Bournonville, August, 1805-1879
Åkesson, Birgit, 1908-2001
Kaye, Nora, 1920-1987
Fracci, Carla
Balanchine, George
Kongelige Danske ballet
Sylphide (Choreographic work : Bournonville)
Sylphide (Choreographic work)
Giselle (Choreographic work)
Apollo (Choreographic work : Balanchine)
Panamerica (Choreographic work)
Carmen (Choreographic work : Petit)
Miss Julie (Choreographic work : Cullberg)
Lady from the sea (Choreographic work : Cullberg)
Night shadow (Choreographic work : Balanchine)
Swan lake (Choreographic work : Bruhn)
Ballet dancing
Male dancers
Ballet dancing for men
Radio programs
Content: Title supplied by cataloger.
Funding: The conservation and cataloging of this recording was made possible in part by the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division of The New York Public Library and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The support of the National Endowment for the Arts is also gratefully acknowledged.
Content: Streaming file 1, June 19, 1968 (approximately 46 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about how he approaches a role beginning with his debut in the role of James in La sylphide; the unfavorable critical response and his realization that he must think for himself; the process of conceptualizing and identifying with a role; the role of James including as compared with that of Albrecht in Giselle; the confines of tradition [at the Royal Danish Ballet; Kongelige Danske ballet]; how he succeeded in escaping these confines; the problem with an older performer's coaching a younger dancer in a signature role; his approach to directing other dancers; his desire for intellectual engagement [ends abruptly but continues on streaming file 2].
Content: Streaming file 2, June 19, 1968 (approximately 46 minutes). Erik Bruhn continues to speak with Selma Jeanne Cohen about his approach to a role including how preparing for a role affects his behavior in class and otherwise; his relationship with the music; his perfectionism; his instinctive facility for movement; more on the importance of independent thinking in one's artistic development; the absolute necessity of mastering the required technique, for example as in the Black Swan pas de deux [in Act III of Swan lake]; his approach to this pas de deux once he had achieved mastery of technique to the point of boredom; his attempt to impart meaning in every movement; the relationship of conservation of one's energy and muscles and an optimal performance [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 3, June 20, 1968 (approximately 47 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about changing a step in the aid of expressiveness, for example from a relevé to a plié in the beginning of Act II of Giselle; his interpretation of Albrecht's motivations and character; the physical aspects of dancing a particular role contrasted with the psychological aspects; different kinds of audiences and how this may influence his performance; more on the role of Albrecht including the development of his character in the ballet; his first performance of Albrecht, in 1955 with Alicia Markova; his voluntary hiatus from performing Albrecht and subsequent return to the role including the experiences, respectively, of dancing with Yvette Chauviré, Markova, and Carla Fracci [ends abruptly but continues on streaming file 4].
Content: Streaming file 4, June 20, 1968 (approximately 36 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about the different backgrounds and styles of Alicia Markova, Yvette Chauviré, and Carla Fracci in the context of explaining what makes a ballerina great; [Galina Sergeevna] Ulanova as compared with Maya Plisetskaya [Maĭi︠a︡Pliset︠s︡kai︠a︡]; adding the human element, even in the case of an abstract ballet, after mastering the technique; performing as the Prince with Maria Tallchief in the pas de deux in George Balanchine's The nutcracker, in particular the challenge of dancing with apparent ease; the role of the music in surmounting this challenge; learning the role of Apollo including Balanchine's coaching; Hamlet as a putative role.
Content: Streaming file 5, June 21, 1968 (approximately 41 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about George Balanchine's choreographing a pas de deux [Preludios para percusión; one of an eight-dance program collectively titled Panamerica] on him and Pat [Patricia Wilde]; working with choreographers, in particular the extent of interpretative freedom he allows himself; his thoughts in general terms on interpreting a role; performing the Flower festival pas de deux [Bournonville's Flower festival in Genzano; Blomsterfesten i Genzano] including the logic and style of his revisions; his thoughts on Bournonville style and tradition including the problems of determining Bournonville's intentions and what is meant by tradition.
Content: Streaming file 6, June 21, 1968 (approximately 41 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about his preparation for and performance of Don José in Roland Petit's ballet Carmen including his interpretation of Don José's character and his relationship with Carmen, and Roland Petit's comments on his performance; [Birgit Cullberg's ballet] Miss Julie and the role of Jean including his interpretation of Jean's character and his relationship with Miss Julie [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 7, June 25, 1968 (approximately 44 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about the development of a role, including the occasional necessity for reassessment as, for example, in David Blair's new production of Giselle [after Coralli and Perrot]; his learning the other dancers' parts in particular that of his partner in a pas de deux; Margrethe Schanne and Carla Fracci as partners; how men and women are portrayed in the arts in terms of relative strength, sensitivity, and creativity; more on Miss Julie and the relationship between Miss Julie and Jean [ends abruptly but continues on streaming file 8].
Content: Streaming file 8, June 25, 1968 (approximately 40 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about the ballet Miss Julie and the role of Jean; the drama inherent in any movement whether part of an abstract dance or in a story ballet; his experience dancing in a variety of styles; his continuing evolution even in the same roles; his thoughts on Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham; more on Miss Julie in particular the unorthodox [for the time] subject-matter and his belief that dance and movement are infinitely expressive; the relative ease of dancing dramatic roles like that of Jean and Don José compared with classical roles; his informal study of the Stanislavsky method and of Zen Buddhism; his state of mind in 1961 when he felt his career to be at a crossroads.
Content: Streaming file 9, June 25, 1968 (approximately 39 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about his rebelling against his teachers at age 15 and why rebellion is necessary; more on the dangers of mere imitation and the importance of using one's mind; the stimulus he received upon discovering at age 15 that his intelligence had been evaluated as below standard; his thoughts on remarks quoted by Cohen about the nature of ballet including its ephemeral quality; his disagreement with a commentator's view that the story of Giselle is silly [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 10, June 26, 1968 (approximately 42 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about Birgit Cullberg's ballet Miss Julie including the relative simplicity of the choreography, and the character and motivations of Jean; Violette Verdy and Maria Tallchief, respectively, in the role of Miss Julie; Kirsten Simone as a current Miss Julie he admires; this ballet as a vehicle for strong performers; Cullberg's ballet Lady from the sea, choreographed on Bruhn and Lupe Serrano; his conflicts with Cullberg over his role and his preference for Royes Fermandez's performance over his own; his thoughts on why this role was not successful for him; the fact that very few works have been made for him [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 11, June 26, 1968 (approximately 26 minutes). [Begins abruptly; part of this session was inadvertently not recorded]. Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about Birgit Cullberg's work Lady of the sea; Roland Petit's ballet Carmen and the role of Don José; the principles behind his approach to a role including how this can change over time; coaching younger dancers based on the principle that a dancer should perform a role in a way that is suitable to his level of maturity; his own artistic development [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 12, June 29, 1968 (approximately 44 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about his discomfort as a child in social situations and learning how to behave by observing others; the use of forms in movement as the means of expressing a character's essence; the role of Jean [in the ballet Miss Julie] compared with that of Don José; more on the roles, respectively, of James in La sylphide and of Albrecht in Giselle; performing these roles; the constant evolution in his dancing; Balanchine's Night shadow [also known as La sonnambula] including his first time seeing it, with [George] Skibine as the poet; dancing the role of the Poet with Allegra Kent for New York City Ballet including his dissatisfaction with his understanding of the Poet.
Content: Streaming file 13, June 29, 1968 (approximately 44 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about George Balanchine's rehearsing of his ballet Night shadow; the role of the Poet; reality and fantasy in the ballet Giselle including the significance of Giselle's madness and the Willis; the transformation from his on stage character back to his offstage identity including its psychological toll; Bruhn's Swan lake [1967; National Ballet of Canada] including its portrayal of Prince Siegfried's relationship with his mother [ends abruptly but continues on streaming file 14].
Content: Streaming file 14, June 29, 1968 (approximately 39 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about his production of Swan lake and the ideas behind it; his musical choices; virtuosity including in Swan lake; the Prince's relationship with the White swan [Odette] and the Black swan [Odile], respectively; his version of Swan lake as a response to the ossification of the story of Swan lake as typically presented; general thoughts on creativity and society; the tradition of mime in Bournonville ballets.
Content: Streaming file 15, June 30, 1968 (approximately 47 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about mime in ballet today; the possibility of Bournonville's style having influenced George Balanchine's use of very quick steps in his choreography; the relative roles of the choreographer and the performer with respect to the creation and interpretation of ideas and forms; the use of personal experience and emotions in aid of performance; becoming completely immersed in a character while maintaining control; the use of feelings and thoughts in his creative process and the risks of isolation.
Content: Streaming file 16, June 30, 1968 (approximately 31 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about Birgit Åkesson and the dance she choreographed for him [Bruhn gives its title, in English, as Morning, noon, and night and as Day, noon, and night]; dancing in the studio for the camera as compared with dancing in a theater before a live audience [from approximately 15:45 through 18:30, there is considerable static, to the extent that the speakers voices are almost unintelligible]; the problems with the way ballet is taught including by imitation without understanding [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 17, July 13, 1968 (approximately 47 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about remarks made by Michel Fokine regarding movement and interpretation including Bruhn's view of the relationship between technique and interpretation, his use of personal experience in performing a role, and the question as to whether an arabesque could ever be simply an arabesque without added significance; Bournonville as a choreographer including his view of dance as an expression of sheer joy and beauty; the value of experimenting with movement; beauty and illusion on stage including the aestheticizing of what might be considered ugly offstage; his thoughts on Martha Graham's observation that " makes apparent the hidden realities behind the accepted symbols," including its application to dance; his thoughts on Graham's remarks about dance and "the interior landscape" [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 18, July 13, 1968 (approximately 47 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about mime and ballet; the relationship between the cultivation of the intellect and performing; inspiration from paintings; music that cannot be successfully choreographed, for example Maurice Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe; various factors that contribute to an effective performance including the freedom to bring one's own interpretation to the role.
Content: Streaming file 19, July 13, 1968 (approximately 47 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about the subsidiary role historically accorded to men in ballet; his finding inspiration in great partners, such as Carla Fracci; Bournonville as one of the first choreographers to give the male dancer a central role, as in that of James in La sylphide; an anecdote about George Balanchine's choreographing for girls rather than for women and men; the public image of the male ballet dancer in the United States including as compared with that in Europe; the education of ballet dancers [at the Royal Danish Ballet school] including the training of the boys compared with that of the girls; more on the historically subsidiary role of the male ballet dancer before Bournonville [ends abruptly but continues on streaming file 20].
Content: Streaming file 20, July 13, 1968 (approximately 44 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about the chasm between himself when he is performing on stage and his self immediately after a performance; his intent that his dancing should be solely for the pleasure of the audience; working with Carla Fracci; his view that no technique is intrinsically female or male including how much he has learned from observing ballerinas; Nora Kaye as a dramatic and as a classical dancer including her influence on his character dancing; schools and styles; his experience dancing in Antony Tudor's ballet The lilac garden including the reasons he felt his performance was not successful [ends abruptly].
Content: Streaming file 21, August 2, 1968 (approximately 28 minutes). Erik Bruhn speaks with Selma Jeanne Cohen about Clive Barnes' critical remark regarding Bruhn's acting in a recent performance of Giselle; more on Birgit Cullberg's Lady from the sea including reasons he felt it was not a success; the Gangster in Roland Petit's La chaloupée as another unsuccessful role; more on his role as Jean in Cullberg's Miss Julie; Bournonville's principle that the steps must always appear easy to the audience.
Physical Description
Extent: 11 audiocassettes (approximately 14 hr., 26 min.) : polyester; quarter-track
Sound quality is good overall in the case of Erik Bruhn, the interviewee, except as noted below. The voice of the interviewer, Selma Jeanne Cohen, is often soft and difficult to understand. There are occasional extraneous noises, including "tape hiss" at times and occasional short gaps. The speakers' voices are distorted in the latter part of streaming file 10 and in streaming file 11 due to a problem with recording speed in the original recording. In addition, in streaming file 15, there is a high level of static from approximately 15:45 through 18:25, with the result that the speakers' voices in this section are almost unintelligible.
Interview with Erik Bruhn conducted by Selma Jeanne Cohen on June 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 29, and 30, July 13, and August 8, 1968 (New York (N.Y.)) as the basis for an article entitled Beyond technique in Dance Perspectives no. 36, published winter 1968.
Type of Resource
Sound recording
RLIN/OCLC: 906720884
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b20594051
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): efac2320-b8b8-0133-2d08-60f81dd2b63c
Rights Statement
The copyright and related rights status of this item has been reviewed by The New York Public Library, but we were unable to make a conclusive determination as to the copyright status of the item. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use.

Item timeline of events

  • 1928: Creator Born
  • 1968: Created (Approximate)
  • 1986: Creator Died
  • 2020: Found by you!
  • 2021

MLA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Erik Bruhn" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1968 - 1968.

Chicago/Turabian Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. "Interview with Erik Bruhn" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 23, 2020.

APA Format

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. (1968 - 1968). Interview with Erik Bruhn Retrieved from

Wikipedia Citation

<ref name=NYPL>{{cite web | url= | title= (sound recording) Interview with Erik Bruhn, (1968 - 1968)|author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=November 23, 2020 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations}}</ref>

Interview with Erik Bruhn