The Lesson

Choreography: Flemming Flindt (1936-2009)
, Composer: Georges Delerue (1925-1992)
Premier at Opéra Comique, Paris, 1963 Se kort

By Lone Nyhuus, journalist, former dancer and choreographer, 2006

Dance to the death

Have you ever felt that a teacher was so intent on passing on his knowledge, that he - or she - would do anything to make you learn? That it was unbearable for the teacher, when it turned out you were not the ideal student he expected? 
La Leçon is the name of an absurd play by the Romanian/French playwright Ionesco. It is about a mad mathematics and language teacher who kills his students. In Flemming Flindt’s danced version, the teacher is naturally a ballet instructor. And it is the wish to learn the difficult toe dance that prompts young women to innocently ring the doorbell to his basement studio. 

A basement full of instincts 

Down here it is full of suppressed instincts. Well aware of the perverted inclinations of the teacher, the lady pianist steps around in small, neurotic squares while she wrings her hands in her sexually buttoned-up lap. The ballet teacher crabs sideways through the door and can hardly open his hands and arms for the common greeting: how do you do. And the student who thinks she is finally going to learn to dance gets groped and ordered about by the teacher: “A little higher”, “a little longer”, “a little more”. More dance in the damned blister-creating toe shoes. 

From text to body 

As choreography, The Lesson ideally demonstrates how an ingenious and sharp text can become even more compelling and uncanny when it is translated from text to body by a gifted choreographer who clearly senses the essence of the work - in this case the absurd. We can feel it in our bones: from the first step we sense how it will end. The dance teacher would rather see her dead than see her give up the difficult steps in the ballet shoes. There is no turning back. The dance lesson ends ... with her death. Up in the street, the next young girl is waiting. Waiting to get down into the basement studio and learn to dance on her toes.

Solo dancers Nikolaj Hübbe and Gudrun Bojesen in The Royal Theatre's performance of Enetime from 2002/2003. Photo: Matin Mydtskov Rønne.
Thomas Lund and Ida Praetorius in The Royal Ballet's setup in 2011/2012. Photo: Costin Radu.
Performing Arts

Did you know?

Eugene Ionesco, who originally wrote The Lesson as a play, became so excited about Flemming Flintt's ballet version, that he immediately agreed to work with Flindt to make a ballet for television. The result was the ballet The Young Man Must Be Married, which was shown on television throughout Europe.

The committee's justification

By The Committee for Performing Arts, 2006

Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson – the English title given to his Enetime – is a work that is rightfully famous both in Denmark and internationally. It is an outstanding example of what the performing arts are and what they can do. Created for Danish TV in 1963, one year later The Lesson was transferred to the stage both in Paris and at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen. The basis for The Lesson is the absurd, dramatic author Eugène Ionesco’s play La Leçon. The play is a demonic, consuming story about a mad mathematics and language teacher who kills his students. In Flindt’s version, the mad teacher has become a sick, sadistic dance teacher.
Flemming Flindt here pre-empts – just as in his other works – an international “world theatre” wave which has become far more evident today than when he created his works. This wave included, among other things, allowing genre – in this case, ballet – to flow outside of its own boundaries and work together with, and to be inspired by, other genres.

Flemming Flindt is also a typical representative of the auteur artist, who creates, stages sometimes performs himself. The music is a disturbing, film-like score by the Frenchman Georges Delerue. Flindt is profoundly original and innovative in his use of, and sense of, the introduction of psychological realism, realistic characters, and almost thriller-like energy and latent eroticism in an otherwise often abstract art form. In any case, the strong, symbol-laden images that are a strength for ballet as a genre, are absolutely present. And they figure in Bernard Daydé’s exceptional set decoration, too.

The Lesson was first performed on Danish television on 16 September 1963, at Opéra Comique, Paris on 6 April 1964 and at the Royal Danish Theatre on 1 October 1964.


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