100 Heroes: Erik Bruhn

The gay man who helped shape the world of dance.

100 Heroes: Erik Bruhn

Erik Bruhn was a Danish dancer, choreographer, artistic director, actor, and author.

Early life

Born in 1928, Erik Bruhn was born in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Bruhn began training with the Royal Danish Ballet when he was nine years old, and made his unofficial debut on the stage of Copenhagen's Royal Opera House in 1946, dancing the role of Adonis in Harald Lander's ballet Thorvaldsen.


He was taken permanently into the company in 1947 at the age of eighteen.

Bruhn was promoted to soloist in 1949, the highest level a dancer can attain in the Danish ballet.

Bruhn formally resigned from the Danish ballet in 1961, by which time he had become one of the most internationally celebrated dancers of his era.

He went on to work as a guest artist will all the major ballet companies across Europe and North America.

He was best known for his lead roles in La Sylphide, Giselle, Frederick Ashton's Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake.

Bruhn was made a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, one of Denmark's highest honours, in 1963.

He was director of the Swedish Opera Ballet from 1967 to 1973 and the National Ballet of Canada from 1983 until his death in 1986.

Personal life

Bruhn met Rudolf Nureyev after Nureyev defected to the West in 1961. Nureyev was a great admirer of Bruhn, having seen filmed performances of the Dane on tour in Russia with the American Ballet Theatre.

Bruhn's relationship with Nureyev was probably the most significant in his life.

Bruhn died in 1986 at the age of 57. The cause of death was lung cancer, although there is some speculation that it might have been an AIDS-related death.

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