While interviewing Amy Watson, a principal dancer in the Royal Danish Ballet (which performs next week in Costa Mesa), for a Sunday Arts & Books profile of her boss, Nikolaj Hübbe, artistic director of the company, I told her about watching Hübbe, formerly a beloved dancer in the New York City Ballet, walk through a reception for him at the Guggenheim Museum. It was like watching a prince glide through his adoring minions, I said. "Oh, yeah," she said, laughing.
Watson, born in Oceanside (she was a military kid and lived on Camp Pendleton until she was 10), offered that when she was a teenager at the School of American Ballet in New York, and Hübbe came to teach, "We used to put on special makeup. We used to say, 'Ohmigod, Nikolaj's teaching, we have to wear makeup today and our pretty leotards.' Yeah, he's a magnet. He's a magnet to women and men. He just has this persona around him. When he comes into a room, his persona demands attention."
I asked her if acclaimed dancers always made good teachers. "It definitely does not go hand-in-hand," she said. "I've worked with phenomenal dancers who have had phenomenal careers and it has not been the same when they have made that transition into being a coach or instructor." But Hübbe, Watson said, was the exception: he was a sensational teacher and mentor.
"He is the most passionate person I know when it comes to this art form. He knows everything about it. He knows the history of every ballet, of every ballerina. You can talk to him about every style, every company, this person, that person. He gives all his knowledge."
His passion, she said, ran both ways. "He can be passionate about something being phenomenal, and he can be passionate about something that he highly disagrees with you on. He likes to argue. So you get a good debate going with him, I'll say that. But he always wants the best for the art form, the best for you."