For the past three years, Hubbe has been artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, where he is in charge of nearly 90 dancers — not to mention dozens of teachers, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, shoe specialists and other human assets of a state-supported institution with an extensive heritage.
In performances at the Opera House from Tuesday through Sunday, the company will present two full-length ballets by the 19th-century Danish master August Bournonville: “A Folk Tale,” concerning trolls, changelings and the triumph of love, and “Napoli,” a seaside romance set in Italy.
The question is, will these ballets that Hubbe now leads from behind the scenes set off the kind of sparks he once generated in the spotlight?
One thing is clear: Hubbe, 43, has brought to his new job some of the fiery intensity that drove him as a dancer. He is not playing it safe on this monthlong tour, the company’s biggest in 50 years. Consider that in a recent phone call from Copenhagen, Hubbe quoted German experimental choreographer and noted provocateur Pina Bausch: “In the ugly there can be great beauty.”
He invoked Bausch while speaking about his brazen new production of “Napoli,” one of the touchstones of the great Danish ballet tradition, which traces its light, fast footwork and sunny modesty to Bournonville’s creations. Hubbe thought the time-honored version of “Napoli” that the company had been dancing since 1842 looked “too Danish” for a ballet set in Naples. (Hubbe is disarmingly candid. That’s also what made his dancing so exciting, its quality of raw, unexpected honesty.)
“I wanted it to be colorful, with just a dollop of the grotesque,” Hubbe said. He helped the dancers in the leading roles of Gennaro, a fisherman, and Teresina, his lover, to create lively characters that are “naive and very feisty. Where you can almost feel the blood rolling in them. I wanted that kind of ‘Napoli’ where it’s very gritty. Even if he was brilliant he was a bastard, and she was sexy.”
Certainly, this Danish-born perfectionist with a dramatic side does not lack for ambition. Hubbe announced plans for this tour almost immediately upon taking over the company in 2008, as “a benchmark for us. We’ll present a new generation of dancers — and my view, the view of the next generation of Bournonville stagers.” The company started the tour in Orange County and Berkeley, Calif., and will finish at Lincoln Center after the Washington engagement. (How Hubbe and the dancers must have relished California sun. As we spoke, it was pouring buckets of Baltic rain outside Hubbe’s office at Det Kongelige Teater, the Royal Danish Theater, which houses the ballet troupe as well as opera, orchestra and theater companies.)