Obituary: Bent Schonberg

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
BENT SCHONBERG was a dance critic and writer who did much to promote international understanding of the Danish ballet tradition. He was based in London for many years, where, as a freelance correspondent, he contributed to several international dance magazines and was the author of a number of books about dance. In close collaboration with the late Peter Brinson, he founded the acclaimed yearbook World Ballet and Dance.

In this same period in the Eighties, Schonberg became the biographer of his close friend Hans Brenaa. His book was translated from the Danish by Joan Tate as Hans Brenaa: Danish ballet master (1990). Brenaa was a distinguished dancer and teacher but one of his most important roles in Schonberg's opinion was as custodian of the great tradition of Bournonville, the celebrated Danish choreographer, whose work Brenaa reconstructed and modernised.

One of Schonberg's strongest passions was the Royal Danish Ballet, which he revered, not only for the excellence of its dancers but because that company kept alive the traditions of Bournonville. He felt that people did not know enough about, nor appreciate, the uniqueness of Bournonville; to that end, in the early Fifties, he personally invited an English critic to Denmark to see for himself. From that visit there developed an increasing awareness in the UK, and no fewer than eight critics attended a ballet festival in Copenhagen in 1951.

He was also instrumental in inviting a large contingent of ballet lovers from the UK to the Bournonville Festival at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen, in 1979 and again in 1992.

Bent Schonberg was the son of the Danish actor Ib Schonberg. He was born, in 1924, and brought up in Copenhagen. At the age of 16 he was taken to see the same ballet twice in one week: from this his lifelong passion for the ballet was born. He wrote his first ballet review at the age of 19 and continued as a freelance journalist for some years before having his own ballet review column with Ekstra Bladet, the tabloid arm of Politeken, Denmark's major daily newspaper.

In the late 1950s he temporarily abandoned journalism and took up the cause of the elderly, infirm and mentally handicapped by setting up a chain of nursing homes. He eventually expanded this work into France and Spain. He moved to London in the early 1980s and once again turned his attention to writing.

A gregarious man, Bent Schonberg worked tirelessly and generously for dancers and their art. He had a sparkling wit and an impish humour. The well-being of dancers and their risk of injury were of constant concern to him and he had no hesitation in bringing together people who could aid or influence this cause. In 1992 he was decorated with the Order of the Knight of the Danebrog.

In recent years he and his wife Cristina retired to Florida where he established the Ballet Society of Florida.

Bent von Cotta Schonberg, dance critic and writer: born Copenhagen 11 December 1924; married 1958 Lotte Rames (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1968 Cristina Skyum; died Sarasota, Florida 24 July 1999.

Comments