Muse: Sabine Kupferberg

The story of Sabine (...A work in progress...) 

The year 2006, was the year, in which a very special anniversary 
of Sabine Kupferberg had passed silently and unnoticed. Not even 
Sabine was aware of it! 
It was namely in 1956, when she set her tiny feet onto the 
“big stage” of the Municipal theatre in Wiesbaden for the first 
time. Her face was painted black and her shoes were pointed, 
because she was performing the tiny role of the “Moor”, who 
finds the lost handkerchief at the end of Richard Strauss’ 
“Der Rosenkavalier”. Not only that she made a very good 
impression on the people who saw her, but more importantly 
her first “theatrical experience” overwhelmed her and profoundly 
influenced her entire stage career. 
The depth of her experience will be better understood, when we 
realize, that the protagonists of that famous production were 
none less than Christa Ludwig and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf! 

A jump to 2006 

After an unparalleled career as a professional dancer for 
38 years (7 years Stuttgart Ballett under John Cranko and 
31 years Nederlands Dans Theater, largely under the direction 
of Jiří Kylián), instead of celebrating her longtime loyalty 
to NDT and her unique artistry, her new home, NDT III, an 
especially created group for senior dancers of which she was 
a founding member, was dismantled for lack of money, lack of 
fantasy and because of poor management. 
Sabine was told to leave NDT. End of her career? Certainly not! 
Sabine is one of these artists who are unable to imagine life 
without creation. 
Promptly after this unfortunate and shocking episode she had 
participated in the making of a film entitled CAR-MEN 
(choreography by Jiří Kylián, direction by Boris Paval Conen). 
She appeared in this film as the archetypal character of Carmen 
with her ex-colleagues of NDT III and showed that her talent 
has many more facets than previously understood, and should be 
explored in the future. 

Jump back in time 

20 April 1951 at 15hrs 20min, Sabine is born in Wiesbaden, 
and although Sabine’s father, Christian Adalbert Kupferberg, 
was the owner of a famous champagne brand, there were no 
champagne corks flying through the air for that occasion. 
But instead a shroud of secrecy was preferred to surround 
the birth of Sabine – and that – for a good reason: Sabine’s 
father and her mother, Anneliese Götze-Heiligenstedt were both 
married to other partners (both already with children). 
So, there is no doubt that Sabine was born not only as a 
“love child” but as an unlawful child too. 
In order to prevent a major scandal to unfold, this “love child” 
had to be kept away from public eye. It was decided that Sabine 
will be kept under the hospices of an orphanage which was lead 
by a friend of Sabine’s mother. 
This potentially tragic decision had also certain advantages. 
It is true that Sabine has hardly tasted her mother’s milk, 
and has hardly been justly punished by her father’s hand. 
Instead, Sabine had all of a sudden some forty friends of 
different ages and different fates, a diverse and interesting 
caboodle of children who have called the orphanage “their home"... 
Sabine’s parents, who were in the process of separating from 
their current partners, came to visit her occasionally. 
When they were close to successfully divorce from their partners, 
Christian Adalbert decided to take his wife to be, Anneliese, 
for a ride in his Cabriolet automobile… And it seems so, that 
when real tragedy strikes, it strikes with such ferocious force 
that it leaves all involved marked by it for the rest of their 
lives. Sabine’s mother fell out the fast moving car and crashed 
her head on a milestone... she died instantly. Maybe, this didn’t 
leave such a deep scar in Sabine’s consciousness then, as she 
was only five years of age at that time. This terrible story 
had a totally different effect on Sabine’s father. He has never 
really recovered from that unforgiving shock, and most probably, 
many of his future actions were subconsciously influenced by it. 
Sabine was now officially a ‘half orphan’. How to cope? 
A new twist of events: Sabine is adopted by the director of the 
orphanage, Barbara von Bassewitz. She was a trained pianist 
and was able to understand Sabine’s artistic talent to a certain 
extend. Sabine was given music lessons (like all the other 
children) and later she was given the opportunity to take dance 
lessons. This was a fulfillment of Sabine’s mother’s wish, 
who (according to the words of Christian Adalbert) was the 
most wonderful waltz dancer (“ dance with her was an 
unforgettable experience...”). 

Sabine got probably hooked on dance form the very start. Soon 
she became one of the “most important” dwarfs in a production 
of “Snow white”, and it didn’t take her long to convince the 
fiercest critics, that she was a force to reckon with, when 
she appeared in a peasant “Trampel dance”. 
But when she finally appeared as the Moor in ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ 
(next to already mentioned colleagues Schwarzkopf and Ludwig) 
everybody knew that Sabine was unstoppable! 
After the early triumphs the question arose: What next?? Well, 
the next should always be the “very best”. But the problem is 
that the “next best” might not be able to substitute the present 
glory. Never mind. The minds of Sabine and Barbara (her foster 
mother) were set on the “very best:” The Stuttgart Ballet. 
Stuttgart at that time was the Mecca of Dance; it was something 
like the marmalade inside a doughnut (provided that you don’t 
get a doughnut with a hole in it!) 
Sabine and Barbara, with the support of Christian Adalbert, 
decided to go for the marmalade. After hearing from the 
directress of the school for which Sabine auditioned, Ann Woolliams, 
that her school was not a sanatorium, Sabine’s self esteem was 
somewhat dented, but the fact that she was accepted to the famous 
John Cranko School in Stuttgart was great, fantastic and overwhelming. 
After spending some time at the school the all important day came... 

It was the day to face the master of that time, John Cranko, 
who alone was to decide if you are good enough to become a 
member of the famous “Stuttgart Ballett” or not ?!?! 
Only a few words about John Cranko. He was a man of extraordinary 
talents. He was deeply human, and showed enormous understanding 
for all people around him. He was of South-African origin. 
Unfortunately he died tragically much too young (1973 at the 
age of 46). Too young to meet Nelson Mandela, an event which 
would have truly fulfilled his life and reaffirmed his deep belief 
that humans should never be judged by the color of their skin, 
but by their merits, and that we all are born equal. 
Back to Sabine, 1969: When Cranko spoke with Sabine after the 
audition, he felt that the better choice for her would be to 
become an actress rather than pursuing the ‘via dolorosa’ of 
a dancer. 
He has recognized clearly that Sabine had the ability to express 
more than whatever a classical company might be able to offer her. 
He also said that he didn’t think she was equipped enough to dance 
the major roles, which would provide her with satisfactory emotional 
“But”, he said, “I will take you” and Sabine said: “Yes I will...” 
And so started a unique career of the dancer/actor Sabine. 
She might not have reached a status of a great star, but her 
exceptional talents, her honest appearance and her human 
presence on stage has deeply moved many people around the world. 
Her endless curiosity and ever-present whish to experiment has 
moved many boundaries of dance and theatre. 
From the start it was very clear that her ability to express 
her emotions and to master mimics, posture and movement quality 
according to the character or personality she had to portray, 
was unique. This gift was, is, and always will be present in her. 
In 1997 it lead to a creation of a film called “Woman with 1000 
faces”. Although Sabine’s beginnings with the Stuttgart Ballett 
were modest, she never failed to be a ‘center of attraction’, 
an instigator of some kind of mischief or just simply someone 
who likes to connect to people in many diverse ways. She is a 
natural communicator. 
In the early seventies she became acquainted with Jiří Kylián, 
the ambitious “choreographer to be”. They sniffed out one another 
for quite some time, but finally, after the untimely death of 
John Cranko on the terrible flight from the United States to 
Europe in the summer of 1973, they have decided to move together, 
and try their luck. In her ‘Stuttgart time’ Sabine has appeared 
in many productions. Some more important, some less, some created 
with her, some not. Some featuring her in more prominent roles, 
some in lesser ones. But time was young, exciting and full of 

When the Nederlands Dans Theater was on tour in Stuttgart as a 
guest company in the seventies, the directors of NDT had their 
eyes on Sabine. They wanted to give her a contract... until it 
came to their ears that she shared her life with some strange 
individual who thought that he was a choreographer. So they 
never made her the offer (the “individual was Jiří Kylián). 
When in 1975 the Nederlands Dans Theater made an offer to Kylián 
to become its artistic director and when he stated that he wanted 
to take his partner Sabine Kupferberg along as a dancer, the answer 
was clear and simple: “it’s o.k., we already know her for some time, 
and we always wanted to have her in our company...” 

September 1975. 
Sabine and Jiří move to The Hague, Holland. Luckily they were 
young (she was 24 and he 28), as the beginnings in the Netherlands 
were anything but ‘rosy’. After the departure of Glen Tetley and 
Hans van Manen, the company was “free-wheeling”, living of its 
past glory. Uncertainty was in the air, the dancers were confused 
and restless. 
The flat where Sabine and Jiří lived for the first 3 years
was a place behind a space in which NDT dumped the sets and 
props which were no longer in use. The climate in the Netherlands 
was not very inviting (weather and people including). But yet, 
there was excitement in the air and the sense of CHAnce, CHAnge
and CHAllenge. One of the bigger challenges was the fact that 
Jirí was determined that Sabine would become just another 
dancer within NDT with no privileges whatsoever, although they 
have not only experienced many creations together but they were 
lovers... This formula was bound to create difficulties between 
the two of them and on many occasions it certainly did. But, on 
the other hand it laid foundation to the new ethics of the company 
which would not allow favoritism, nepotism or corruption of any 
kind. But however wonderful this concept really was proves the 
“star-lit bumper-ride career” of Sabine, which was now ripe and 
ready to take off. 

To give a true account of all the twists and turns, which Sabine’s 
path took while with NDT, is not easy. But one thing is sure: 
it was never boring, and certainly extremely colorful...
Emotional and passionate as Sabine is, she threw herself headlong 
into this pool filled with all kinds of fish – carps and trouts, 
several piranhas and barracudas – groupers and eels were sighted 
here and there a red snapper turned up. Only Sabine did not yet 
know, what kind of fish she was... 
But soon, Sabine’s curiosity, and feeling for adventure have slowly 
begun to give her profile more definite features. Through many 
personal and professional experiences, sublime and disastrous, 
she started developing a profile of highly personal characteristics. 
Her life between the age of 24 and 55 was totally dedicated to the 
idea which NDT had represented under the direction of Jiří Kylián. 
That meant opening the company artistically and commercially to 
the entire world – in practical terms it meant: inviting the very best 
choreographers to share their knowledge, philosophy and artistry 
with NDT, and then share these works with people around the world. 
This formula, which was unusual at that time, had supplied the 
dancers of NDT and its public with highly original repertoire. 
This philosophy has enabled the company to present these works 
just about anywhere in the world, including an Israeli Kibbutz 
or the Paris Opera. 
Sabine was confronted with very many contradicting ideas and 
beliefs. She was like a sponge soaking up the dishwater as 
well as the crystal clear water from a mountain stream. She 
drank everything, and with a little help of her kidney, she 
tried to filter out all the unnecessary. Her confidence and her 
integrity grew, as many years of very diverse experiences have 
followed. Until - one day – the inevitable feeling had come, 
the feeling, that it is enough , and that you have no more space 
in the place where you grew up. This was the case with Sabine 
in 1990. She decided, that the time was up, and that she had to 
move on in her life. She was 39 years young ! 
Sabine’s decision was not negative – quite the contrary, she was 
happy to have participated and to have contributed to something 
as unique and extraordinary as the developments in NDT in the 
1970s and 1980s but at the same time she was ready to part with 
it and to set sail to new shores. Only - the “New shores” were 
much closer then Sabine could ever anticipate. One year later 
Jiří Kylián has decided to create a new ensemble within NDT, 
called NDT III – a unique company, reserved only for dancers 
between “40 years of age and death!” When this idea was born, 
it created somewhat of a sensation in the dance community and 
although it was created for “senior dancers”, it had something 
fresh and youthful in its character. Many of the leading 
choreographers have expressed their generous support of this 
new development. 
Amongst the list of choreographers, who have created original 
works for these dancers appear names of some true “heavyweights” 
of the international dance scene: Hans van Manen, Mats Ek, 
William Forsythe Christopher Bruce , Ohad Naharin, Paul Lightfoot, 
Maurice Béjart, Nacho Duato, Martha Clarke, Maguy Marin, 
Carolyn Carlson, Meryl Tankard, Michael Schumacher, Robert Wilson 
and many others...
They have understood, that these dancers have other things to 
say than their younger colleagues. They were given the opportunity 
to make use of their personalities shaped by time, experience 
and by life itself. The choreographers gave these dancers the 
possibility to stand on the stage again with the dignity of their age. 
It is surely true to say, that Sabine found her real artistichome 
here, because in this newly created repertoire, she was able to 
make use of her ability to express her inner world in a very unique 
and personal way. 
So finally the prophetic words of John Cranko came to fruition. 
Sabine became a dancer-actor. In its 16 years of existence NDT III 
have performed in 28 countries. Many choreographers, composers 
and designers have created a repertoire counting 53 works to date. 
The company has received several prestigious international awards. 
Although since the summer of 2006 this much loved ensemble is no 
longer in existence, Sabine’s creativity will certainly continue 
for many years to come. 

List of countries in which Sabine has performed: 

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada,
Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, England, Finland, France,
Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Iran, Israel,
Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Nederland, 
Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea,
Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, 
United States of America .