Harald Lander was born in 1905, trained as a dancer at the Royal Danish Ballet School and became a member of the Royal Danish Ballet in 1923. While the company was primarily concerned with preserving the legacy of its former director August Bournonville, Lander was open to new influences. In 1926 he moved to New York to study with the choreographer Michel Fokine.
In 1929 he returned to the Royal Danish Ballet and was appointed artistic director in 1931. During his 20-year tenure as director, he enriched the repertoire with productions of Fokine’s masterpieces such as Les Sylphides, Petrushka, Prince Igor and Le spectre de la rose and restored many of Bournonville’s ballets including Napoli, La Sylphide, Flower Festival in Genzano, Le Conservatoire, Far from Denmark, La Ventana, Folk’s Tale, The Kermesse in Bruges and King’s Volunteers on Amager.
For his own creations, Lander collaborated with numerous artists, including writer Kjeld Abell, painter Svend Johansen, and above all composer Knudåge Riisager, with whom he staged his masterpiece Études in 1948 – a one-act work that begins with traditional ballet exercises at a dance studio’s »barre« and ends with spectacular displays by advanced students. Further projects include Football (1933), Boléro (1934), which he performed with his wife Margot Lander, The Little Mermaid (1936), Seven deadly sins (1936), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1940), The Waltz (1940), Fool’s Paradise (1942), Qarrtsiluni (1942) and Quasi una Fantasia (1954).
From 1953 to 1963, Lander was Ballet Master of the Paris Opera Ballet and Director of the Ballet School. He became a French citizen in 1956, opened a studio in Paris in 1964 and worked with companies such as the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, London Festival Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, Het Nationale Ballet Amsterdam, Finish National Ballet, the ballet companies of Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna and Milano.
He was awarded a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog, received the Medal of Honour of the City of Paris and the Danish Medal of Merit Ingenio et arti by King Frederik IX of Denmark in 1969. Harald Lander died in 1971 in Copenhagen.
At the Vienna State Opera Harald Lander’s Études was performed between 1967 and 1974 and from 2013 to 2015.