Henning Kronstam is probably best known to American balletgoers for creating the role of Romeo in Sir Frederick Ashton's Romeo and Juliet, choreographed for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955. Romeo made him a star at twenty and was the beginning of a brilliant career. Kronstam dominated the Royal Danish Ballet's repertory for more than two decades, dancing over 120 roles, more than a third of which were created. He worked with virtually every choreographer of importance active at mid-century from Massine, who gave him his first small solo (the Street Sweeper in Le Beau Danube) when he was fourteen, to Eliot Feld and Murray Louis, who made roles for him in the mid-70s. Kronstam's beauty and lyricism could have doomed him to a lifetime of playing Poets and Young Lovers, but he sought both technical and dramatic challenges throughout his career and his range is unparalleled. Kronstam was known for the purity and elegance of his classical dancing, but he was above all an actor-dancer. In his character parts, he was unrecognizable from role to role, transforming himself from Prince to madman to simpleton to brute and back to Prince again in a single week's repertory and bringing a gallery of characters to life on the stage.
Kronstam succeeded Flemming Flindt as ballet master of the Royal Danish Ballet in 1978 and was responsible for the planning and direction of the 1979 Bournonville Festival as well as for restoring Bournonville, and classical ballet generally, to the center of the company's repertory. He is a noted teacher and coach; Arne Villumsen, Ib Andersen, Lis Jeppesen, Heidi Ryom, Nikolaj Hübbe, Alexander Kølpin, Lloyd Riggins, Rose Gad and Silja Schandorff are among the dancers who credit Kronstam with being of seminal importance in their development.
After retiring as balletmaster in 1985, Kronstam continued to produce or rehearse the lion's share of the repertory, at first concentrating on the classical and contemporary dramatic ballets. Unlike most ballet stars, his productions are not about his own ego. Rather, they are like his dancing: elegant, subtle, richly textured, and, above all, musical. Instead of showing how clever he can be by imposing his ideas on a ballet, he serves the work, and he brings out the best in every ballet and the best in every dancer. On the death in 1988 of the RDB's celebrated Bournonville producer, Hans Brenaa, Kronstam (who had learned his Bournonville roles from Brenaa, and had rehearsed La Sylphide and other works) began to stage Bournonville ballets as well. It was his stagings of La Sylphide, Conservatoriet, and Napoli which were the universally admired productions at the II Bournonville Festival in 1992 and on the company's subsequent U.S. tour. Those who feared that that the Bournonville repertory had been endangered by Brenaa's death began to look to Kronstam to ensure the survival of that repertory.
However, around the time of that festival Kronstam knew, "from some things that were done and said that the next year [1992-93] would be my last season at the Theatre. I knew that Romeo and Juliet would be my last production. I thought, I started with Romeo and Juliet, so it would be good to finish with Romeo and Juliet," In April of 1993, Kronstam was offered only a three-month contract for the 1993-94 season and was maneuvered out of the Theatre at the end of the season. In March of 1995, he began coaching a young dancer, Thomas Lund, and began to look forward to working again. He died suddenly, May 28, 1995, of a pulmonary embellism.
Like Brenaa's, Kronstam's productions had a vitality, wealth of detail, and sheer stagecraft that the company's other productions do not. He is the last of a short line of twentieth century producers, beginning with Hans Beck, who understood both the complexity and the simplicity of Bournonville's ballets and could make them live on stage without altering their essential nature, and with his departure from the Royal Theatre, the spine of whatever intangible artistic sensibility that we non-Danes like to think of as Danish was severed.—A.T.