World renowned Jiří Kylián has been one of the leading choreographers and inspirations of the Nederlands Dans Theater since joining the company in 1975 following his creation of three ballets for them – Viewers, Stoolgame and La Cathédrale Engloutie.
It was fitting that his 75th birthday should be marked with a special event, a celebration, which is what happened last night at the Amare in The Hague in the presence of Princess Beatrix and other dignitaries.
Kylián has created over one hundred ballets of which seventy-seven have been performed by NDT all but two of which were created especially for the company.
Born on Prague in 1947,he started his dance career at the age of nine at the School of the National Ballet there. In 1962 he was accepted as a student at the Prague Conservatory and five years later he received a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London.
Last night’s celebration started with the 2006 work Tar and Feathers. The barbaric punishment of tarring and feathering was still being perpetrated by vigilantly groups in the southern state of the USA until quite recently. It was the juxtapositioning of the heavy black tar and the light, white feathers that formed the starting point for this piece. For Kylián the ritual represented the ‘unbearable lightness’ and the ‘unbearable weight’ of our human existence.
The stage was dominated by a grand piano which stood in the corner on three-meter-high legs like a Salvador Dali elephant. The main music for the piece was based on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat major played by Tomoko Mukalyama seated on an equally high stool. Also on stage was a large pile of bubble pack – a ubiquitous substance which, like tar and feathers, contrasts strength with lightness. The occasional popping of a bubble punctuated the soundscape. The six dancers moved in a black and white world towards a startling climax when they appeared in menacing black frizzy wigs wearing voluminous bubble-pack skirts while Mr Kylián recited Samuel Beckett’s final work, What’s the Word?
Next up was Gods and Dogs, an unfinished work from 2008 – called ‘unfinished’, referring to Kylián’s fascination for the beauty of what is left incomplete in life. The work itself is complete. This had a very classical feel to it with a static male dancer posing like a Greek statue upstage. There was an incredible effect with the spotlight on him, and consequently his shadow, being controlled by another dancer who was surreptitiously moving his legs in front of a ground-mounted light. Undoubtedly, the most memorable aspect of this was the monumental curtain made from gold chains which provided a never-still kaleidoscope of light and shade.
Bella Figura is almost Kylián’s NDT signature piece. First performed in October 1995, it explores the connection between person and performer and the point at which one becomes the other. This was demonstrated by the piece starting before it began. As we came back into the auditorium after the interval the dancers were already on stage – were they warming up or had the show already started? There was a clever use of curtains which moved up and down side to side to frame and concentrate the eye on certain sequences. The highlight of Bella Figura is the seminal vision the nine dancers, all bare-chested, dancing in voluminous red skirts.
This was a fitting tribute to a great choreographer who has guided the NDT and left his mark on worldwide contemporary dance for the best part of fifty years. His influence will almost certainly be in evidence for the next fifty. Michael Hasted 23rd September 2022