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‚Mich interessieren diese Grenzen zwischen Normalität und Verrücktheit, zwischen Gesundheit und Krankheit und die Normen, die beides definieren. In jedem Moment seines Lebens kann man der einen oder anderen Kategorie zugeordnet werden. Aber der genaue Moment, an dem man ultimativ über die unsichtbare Grenze ins dunkle Reich von krankhafter Verrücktheit gestoßen wird, entzieht sich unserer Wahrnehmung. Mir ist klar, dass ich nicht der Erste oder Letzte bin, der diese Frage stellt, und dass jede neue Generation jene zwielichtigen Zonen der menschlichen Existenz neu für sich definieren muss. Dennoch ist sicher, dass jede Art von Entwicklung einen gesunden Schuss Verrücktheit braucht.’
(Jirí Kylián, November 2008)

Jiří Kylián
Dancer and choreographer Jiří Kylián was born in 1947 in Prague - Czechoslovakia, to his father Václav who was a banker (born in a very simple village family, but later in life he became the first economist, and finally the director of the largest "Savings Bank" of the country) and to his mother Markéta, (who in her young age was a dancer-child protégée, and who managed to sell out theaters at the age of 10.)
Needless to say, that in the post war Czechoslovakia, it was highly unusual and hardly acceptable for a young boy to choose dance as his profession. But in the early days dance was not his first priority. His first love was circus, and after his grandmother Stepanka took him to see the famous "Circus Bush", he decided to become an acrobat, and spent a considerable time learning this profession. When this school for acrobats had to close, Jiří's mother took him to see his first ballet performance!
The experience was overwhelming, and had a decisive influence on his future. At the age of 9,
he became a student at the "School of the National Ballet Prague". There he made his first attempts to create small choreographies for his colleague students. (”Nine eighths” choreographed to jazz music or ”Quartet” - to music by Béla Bártok....)
In 1962 he was accepted as a student to the Prague Conservatoire. Although this era was totally controlled by the omnipresent communist party, many of the teachers were excellent, as their own education was firmly rooted in the very liberal and fiercely democratic pre-war Czechoslovakia. One teacher, who left a deep mark on Jiri's professional development, was Zora Šemberová, who is known for her world first interpretation of Juliet (1938) in Prokofiev’s famous ballet. She was the kind of person who treasured truthfulness on stage, as well as in real life, above anything.
Czechoslovakia in the sixties (although totally in the grip of the communists) had created interesting cultural diversity, which was very unique and rich, with important connections to the western "free world".
It was in 1967, that he had received a scholarship to study at the "Royal Ballet School "in London, the true cultural center of the world at that time (Hippies, Beatles, Nureyev, Fonteyn, and everything else.....).
There he met the choreographer John Cranko, who offered him a contract, to become a member of the highly acclaimed "Stuttgart Ballet". Before taking up his contract, he returned to Prague for a short summer holiday. In the meantime, Czechoslovakia started its process of reformation of the communist regime under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek. On the 21st of August 1968
the invasion of the communist "Warsaw-Pact" forces began. On the 28th of August, after taking part in many demonstrations against the occupation, he has left for Germany. The attempt of Dubcek and his supporters, to create a "Socialism with a human face" was crushed.
The Stuttgart ballet under the direction of Cranko, was one of the most celebrated companies of that time. Cranko himself was a man of free spirit, and a great communicator. Many interesting personalities took refuge under his wings. He was not afraid of rivalry and made his company available to established choreographers (Kenneth MacMillan, Glen Tetley..) or to young choreographers just starting their careers.

It was in the "Noverre Gesellschaft" (the testing ground for young talent, which organized annual choreographic workshops), for which Kylián made his first work entitled "Paradox". Later Cranko asked him to create works for “official” premiers of the main company. His first work, "Kommen und Gehen" was created with Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun. In 1971 Cranko decided to create the so-called "Noverre Company", which had the task to provide dance accompaniment to operas and operettas. He asked Kylián to supply this company with contemporary dance-repertoire. ("Incantations", "Einzelgänger", "Blaue Haut").
In the early 70’s, Cranko had invited Glen Tetley to become a resident choreographer in Stuttgart. Tetley's work made an enormous impression on Kylián. Tetley was an intellectual, just as Cranko was, but his approach to dance was totally different. His understanding of movement, and its relation to space, was a revelation to Kylián.
In 1973 after a very successful tour to the U.S.A., Cranko's sudden death at the age of 46 left the Stuttgart Ballet in disarray.
The company scrambled to preserve Cranko's legacy, and at the same time tried to find its way into the future. Kylián had stayed in Stuttgart under various directions including Glen Tetley's, in order to help to bridge the difficult time after that terrible loss. In 1974 he created ”Return to a Strange Land”, dedicated to John’s memory. But he knew that an eventual departure was inevitable.
It was in the early seventies that NDT was on tour in Stuttgart. They saw Kylián's work, and they were interested.
Their invitation resulted in the choreography entitled "Viewers" in 1973. (Paradoxically, Cranko supplied this music to Kylián by handing him an LP with “Petite Symphonie Concertante” by Frank Martin, with the words: ”Maybe one day you can do something with it.....")
After creating two more works for NDT ("Stoolgame" and "La cathédrale engloutie") the offer, to become artistic co-director of that company, together with Hans Knill, had arrived. NDT, which was one of the most innovative dance companies of Europe, has enjoyed great success practically from the beginning (1959). But after the departure of their two foremost choreographers, Hans van Manen and Glen Tetley, it was in decline. It was clear that the very foundation of the company had to be rebuilt.
The most influential figure of NDT at that time was its founder and managing director Carel Birnie. He was a powerful figure, who liked to control all aspects of the running of the company. This fact lead inevitably to certain unease between the artistic and administrative directors.
The years of struggle, which followed, have largely subsided with the creation of "Sinfonietta", which Kylián had created to music of his co-patriot Leoš Janáček for the "Charleston Festival" in the USA (1978). The positive spirit of "Sinfonietta" has led to its overwhelming success and has opened many doors to NDT, which were closed until that time. Kylián saw the need to create large ensemble works, which would consolidate the new status of the company (”Children’s Games”,“Symphony of Psalms” 1978), as well as intimate pieces celebrating individuality (“Silent Cries” 1986, dedicated to his longtime partner Sabine Kupferberg).
Many important international tours have taken place. On its extensive travels, NDT has performed in the most diverse places including the Prague National Theater, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Paris Opera or a Kibbutz Theater in Israel. The company has traveled to countries with established democratic systems, or to countries with oppressive political regimes. They have done that, in order to speak to the audiences directly, leaving any political differences aside.

The guest appearance in communist Czechoslovakia, in the "Prague Spring Festival" in 1980, was an important breakthrough of political dimension. Not only that the success was overwhelming, but more importantly, the public with its long standing ovation, decided to send a message to the authorities, stating that anybody born in this country, should be allowed to make a career abroad, return home, whenever he likes, and be allowed to show his work without any restrictions.
In the early eighties, Kylián’s longtime interest in the culture of the Australian aboriginal people resulted in the largest tribal gathering ever held in Australia.
This powerful experience left a profound mark on him; it taught him a lesson about the unlimited free spirit of dance and of its limitless communicative possibilities. It had a direct or indirect influence on almost every one of his future creations (”Stamping Ground” 1983.)
In the meantime NDT has become a refuge or a breeding ground for many creative people. In order to accommodate their need to express themselves, NDT started organizing so called "Christmas Cabarets" which were not only hysterically funny, but they also served as a platform allowing criticism of the artistic, or administrative direction, or simply as a ground, on which any personal statements could be heard.
These "Christmas Cabarets" soon became "choreographic workshops", the new testing ground of young talent. Many choreographers, artistic directors or teachers, active in many places around the world now, have created their first works here.
Realizing the importance of education of young dancers, Carel Birnie and Jiří Kylián have decided to create a new company- NDT II, in which these young people would get the opportunity to develop their skills and talents in a period of two years, in order to become members of the major company of NDT (NDT I) or to find work elsewhere. Works like: “Indigo Rose”, “Un Ballo”, ”27’52” or “Sleepless” were especially designed for these young people.)
In the years between 1980-2000, NDT has become an important venue, where some of the most interesting creators produced their works:
At that time, the artistic policy of the company had three main aims:
1) The invitation of some of the finest young choreographic talent from around the world:
William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Christopher Bruce, Ohad Naharin and many others.
2) The inclusion of new creations by internationally recognized contemporary masters (Hans van Manen, Glen Tetley....).
3) Last, but certainly not least, the encouragement of creativity within the company's own ranks. The choreographic workshops became the breeding ground for many future choreographers or artistic directors: Nacho Duato - Compania Nacional de Danza (Spain), Johan Inger - Cullberg Ballet (Sweden), Philip Taylor - Ballett Theater München (Germany), James Vincent - Hubbard Street Dance Company (USA), Joe Kanamori (Japan), Catherine Allard IT Danza (Spain), Paul Lightfoot, Sol Leon, Patrick Delcroix, Jorma Elo, Alexander Ekman, and many others....

After many years of directorship, Kylián saw the departure of many fine and interesting performers. Dancers, who could no longer take part in the current repertoire of the company, but who possessed a powerful personality, stage-presence, charisma, and the great gift to communicate with the public in the most basic human way. It was in 1990, that he decided to create a small group for dancers, who find themselves in the age between "forty and death". The world premiere of this “Senior Company” was created by Hans van Manen, Mats Ek, William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián. The original dancers were: Sabine Kupferberg, Alida Chase, Gerard Lemaitre and Niklas Ek. The importance of this new development in dance was instantly recognized by the public, as well as by the press.
Many choreographers of international stature have understood the importance of this new development, and have generously contributed to its rich and diverse repertoire: (Hans van Manen, William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Maurice Bejart, Maguy Marin, Ohad Naharin, Jennifer Muller, Christopher Bruce, Martha Clarke, Carolyn Carlson, Nacho Duato, Paul Lightfoot, Robert Wilson, Eric Voss,
Patrick Delcroix, Johan Inger, Shusaku Takeuchi, Susanne Linke, Paulo Ribeiro, Meryl Tankard, Michael Schumacher, Patrick Marin and many others.... ).
With its unique, three-dimensional structure, (NDT I - mature dancers, NDT II - junior company, NDT III - senior company),and with the building of its own theater (designed by Rem Koolhaas) NDT has become different from any other dance company in the world, and was recognized as such by being given various prestigious awards. To commemorate the company’s 35th anniversary Kylián has designed a special performance, making use of all three companies, entitled "Arcimboldo"(1995). Many talented people of NDT have contributed to its success. Sadly, shortly before the premiere Carel Birnie has died.

In 1999, Kylián has passed the artistic direction to the new generation. He stays connected to the company as a choreographer. In the years between 1973 and today he has created 72 ballets for NDT. His entire body of his work counts 92 creations. Besides creating for NDT, Kylián has made original works for the Stuttgart Ballet, Paris Opera, Swedish Television, and the Tokyo Ballet.
He has worked with many creative personalities of international stature – composers: Arne Nordheim (”Ariadne” 1997.....),
Toru Takemitsu (”Dream Time” 1983.....) - designers: Walter Nobbe (”Sinfonietta” 1978.....), Bill Katz (”Symphony of Psalms” 1978.....),
John Macfarlane (“Forgotten Land” 1980.....), Michael Simon (”Stepping Stones” 1991.....), Atsushi Kitagawara (”One of a Kind” 1998), Susumu Shingu (”Toss of a Dice” 2005)
In the summer of 2006, together with director Boris Paval Conen, he has created a film entitled Car-Men. It was choreographed “on location" in the surface brown coal mines in the north of the Czech Republic.
In the course of his career, Kylián has received many international awards including: "Officer of the Orange Order"- Netherlands, "Honorary Doctorate" - Prague and The Julliard School New York, three "Nijinsky Awards" - Monte Carlo (best choreographer, company and work), "Benoit de la Dance" - Moscow and Berlin, "Honorary Medal" of the President of the Czech Republic, "Commander of the Legion d'honneur" France, “Golden Lyon Award” in Venice and many others.
His creations are danced by more than 80 companies and schools world-wide.

Den Haag, July 2008

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