Historical Background on Polka Militaire
By Erik Aschengreen
Polka Militaire was made for the opening production at the newly-renovated Court Theatre ? now the Theatre Museum ? in 1842; the new interior was in the Biedermeier style in which we know it today. The divertissement for two ladies and two men was based on a Hungarian entré in which Bournonville?s father, Antoine Bournonville, had excelled ? it is thus one of the few surviving works that can give us some idea of the nature of a divertissement around 1800.
In January 1843, when Bournonville visited his dying father for the last time in Fredensborg, his father asked him to dance the new Polka Militaire for him. He had heard about it, but had not had the strength to go Copenhagen to see it. August Bournonville danced the lively, dashing dance and afterwards his father whispered: "Tu as vraiment du génie, mon garçon". Antoine Bournonville died the following day and it caused something of a stir and a good deal of indignation in little Copenhagen when it was rumoured that the son had danced Polka Militaire at his father?s deathbed. The indignation was further fuelled when, on the occasion of Thorvaldsen?s death the following year, Bournonville offered to compose a funeral dance to be performed in front of the coffin as it was taken to the Church of Our Lady. Bournonville would have considered this to be a completely natural way in which to honour the artist whose work he had so admired and who had reciprocated this admiration.
Oddly enough, Polka Militaire was also the last dance August Bournonville saw. On November 28 1879 ? two days before his death ? he witnessed Hans Beck?s stage debut in a pas de deux. The performance ended with Polka Militaire.
The divertissement remained in the repertoire until 1914. In 1949 Harald Lander reconstructed it, with assistance from Hans Beck, as a pas de deux in Salute for August Bournonville - a ballet in six pictures based on selected scenes from Bournonville?s ballets. This was a pièce d?occasion created for a gala performance on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Constitution, June 5th 1949. The ballet was performed ten times up to October 26th. Polka Militaire was not seen again for 30 years until Tove Leach and Hans Brenaa, who had danced it in 1949, reconstructed it for The Bournonville Group of young soloists from the Royal Danish Ballet who included it in the programme for their tour of America. Annemarie Dybdal and Arne Villumsen danced Polka Militaire in costumes designed by Jens-Jacob Worsaae on the Court Theatre stage for the television production Bournonvilles Verden (Bournonville?s World) broadcast on the centenary of his death, November 30th 1979. Polka Militaire is a fine example of the living Bournonville tradition. On April 22nd 1981 Polka Militaire re-entered the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet on an official tour. Danced by Rose Gad and Michael Weidinger, it appeared at the Royal Theatre in a gala production Bournonvilleana, which closed the Second Bournonville Festival on April 4th 1992.
Erik Aschengreen: Professor (University of Copenhagen), Doctor of Philosophy (Dr. phil.), Dance critic
Musical Notes on Polka Militaire
By Ole Nørlyng
Polka Militaire introduced the polka to Denmark and the military- and dance-music composer H.C. Lumbye?s riveting rhythms signalled the start of a veritable polka fever, which created widespread concern for health and moral conduct. The polka was one of the principal dances of the 1800s, its origins being found in old Bohemian national dances. At the end of the 1830s the polka spread from Prague across the whole of Europe and in 1840 Paris was seized by polka-mania. This couple-dance in duple time was extraordinarily popular both as a social dance and on the theatre stage, and composers of the time were busily engaged writing all manner of polkas from the serious to the barnstorming. Alongside galops and waltzes, Lumbye mainly concentrated on composing polkas for the dancing people of Copenhagen; of many popular dances, his Polka Militaire with its lively, syncopated series of melodies soon became a resonant symbol of the bourgeoisie?s entertainment and joie de vivre.