A tour of The Royal Danish Ballet with its principal dancer.
On stage with The Royal Danish Ballet, Jonathan Chmelensky is so captivating that it’s hard to imagine him as an average man in Copenhagen. “Average” may be off the mark, but the principal dancer transforms into an altogether more relatable character when the curtain goes down. Here, we ask the French-born, Cuban-trained dancer about life on stage and off.
It’s Sunday evening. Are you coming from rehearsal?
During the season, I pretty much live at the theatre where we practice and perform but Sunday is usually our day off. It’s the only time I can just hang around my neighborhood.
Which neighborhood is that?
I live in Nørrebro, a relaxed area of Copenhagen. It feels like a village at times, with incredible food. A sushi restaurant called Selfish is my go-to place the day before a big performance. It’s very minimalistic and seats about five people, which is very Copenhagen.
Are you a fan of Scandinavian food?
I adapted quickly to the food here, and I especially like smørrebrød—a traditional open-face sandwich. It’s dark bread topped with things like marinated fish or eggs.
When did you know you were going to be a dancer?
I come from a long line of dancers, so I was raised in it. I wasn’t forced to go into ballet—well, maybe I was forced. I didn’t enjoy it. I was about 10 years old and the only boy in the class. I couldn’t understand why all my friends were doing something else. And then one day I got to perform. I didn’t fall, so the feedback was great! At that moment, I was hooked.
Does your mom now say, “I told you so”?
My mom was actually resentful that I enjoyed it. She had done ballet but not professionally, and she knows how hard it is to make a living from it. At the time, I thought it was cruel. In retrospect, she was being a responsible mother—especially because I wasn’t particularly talented in the beginning. But she never stopped me from dancing.