May 3, 2014

The Erik Bruhn Prize: Legacy of a Closeted Ballet Great

Erik Bruhn (1928-1986) was a renowned Danish dancer and choreographer. He began his career at the Royal Danish Ballet, but toured with the Joffrey, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, and many other companies.  Although he was gay, he specialized in pas de deux, dancing with a female partner.

He retired from the dance in 1968 and became artistic director at the National Ballet of Canada.

He and fellow ballet artist Rudolph Nureyev became lovers in 1961, and stayed together for 25 years.  When he died, the world of ballet was still closeted, so instead of AIDS, his New York Times obituary says "lung cancer," and no relatives are mentioned.

He left an endowment for the Erik Bruhn Prize, to be awarded each year to two young dancers who “reflect such technical ability, artistic achievement and dedication as I endeavoured to bring to dance."

The competition is open to dancers aged 18-25 who are associated with one of the companies that Bruhn worked with.

Dancers must perform a classic male-female pas de deux, but they can also perform contemporary solo pieces.

Since the first competition in 1988, many prize winners have become superstars in the world of ballet, including Johan Kobborg (Royal Ballet); Friedemann Vogel (Stuttgart Ballet); Joseph Gorak (American Ballet Theater); and Robert Stephen (National Ballet of Canada, left).

Next year's competition will be held March 24, 2015, at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.