Jiří Kylián

Jiří Kylián

The mentor

Published in 2009

“Our task as choreographers is to search the extremities of our souls,” says Jiří Kylián.

Since the early 1970s, the celebrated Czech choreographer, 61, has created nearly 100 works – three-quarters for the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT). His creations draw inspiration from many sources and diverse art forms, defying categorization.

First smitten with the magic of the circus, young Kylián studied to be an acrobat. But, at age nine, he began dance training at the Prague National Theatre ballet school. Six years later, he was accepted at the Prague Conservatory and, in 1967-68, he studied, on a scholarship, at London’s Royal Ballet School. There he met influential choreographer John Cranko who offered him a contract with the Stuttgart Ballet.

Kylián left Germany in 1975 to become artistic co-director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. In 1978, following the success of his work Sinfonietta at the Festival of the Two Worlds in Charleston, South Carolina, he became NDT’s sole artistic director. Symphony of Psalms, his second significant creation of this period, had a decisive influence on the company and its international reputation. In the mid-1980s, Kylián’s work became more abstract and is best represented by his Black and White choreographies. His encounter with Australian Aboriginals played a decisive role in his understanding of dance as a cornerstone of social structure and a key facet of humanity’s artistic horizon. Kylián marked NDT’s 35th anniversary by creating Arcimboldo (1994) for all three companies of NDT, whose unique structure encompasses all phases of a dancer’s career, from age 17 to 70. Kylián stepped down as artistic director of NDT in 1999, but remains its resident choreographer.

Venerated for his choreographic work for dancers of all ages, Kylián has received many honours, including the Nijinsky Award in Monaco and France’s Legion d’honneur. In 2006, he co-created a film, CAR-MEN, which was choreographed and filmed in the desolate landscape of a surface coalmine in the Czech Republic.