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Balletaime

Choreography of Jiri Kylian

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For fortunate ones who have had the possibility of seeing Jiri Kylian’s choreography by NDT and us lesser mortals who saw the resent ABT’s staging of Sinfonietta and Petit Mort, or the provincial crowd in Boston who are to see Sarabande and Falling Angels, I would like to pose a question: Do you view Jiri Kylian as a modern or a classical choreographer? Why?

If you consider the two categories as too restrictive, how would you characterize his work?

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He's a fusion choreographer. Ballet trained, but not working (at least at present) in the ballet idiom. I think it would be a major stretch to call him classical, he hasn't done a classical ballet in years (Maybe since Symphony in D?)

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He's a fusion choreographer.  Ballet trained, but not working (at least at present) in the ballet idiom.  I think it would be a major stretch to call him classical, he hasn't done a classical ballet in years (Maybe since Symphony in D?)

This is my sense as well, and it extends to some of his artistic descendents, like Nacho Duato. To my eye, they're reminiscent of choreographers like Glen Tetley.

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He's a fusion choreographer. 

I'm unfamiliar with the term. Would you please define it. Also since you are doing a study on him, how does Kylian himself characterizes his style?

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I won't go into the definition of Kylian's work, but I found it interesting that Lesley-Anne Sayers wrote that his work "presents us with a potent dialogue between classical (and perhaps also Christian) ideals and the contorted angularity of modernism" (in 50 Contemporary Choreographers, p. 137). The more I though about it, the more I began to see and appreciate the Christian sensibility in his work (I'm not talking about liturgical dance or anything religious other than the sensibility that is perhaps a result of a Christian society). Of course, Kylian has ballets that are based on spiritual music, but I see the Christian sensibility as a pristineness of form and proportion, and as an innocence. Perhaps what I'm really thinking of is a European sensibility--?

Also, I have, sadly, only seen NDT on video, but that Boston performance Balletaime spoke of was quite good (surprised as I was) and true to NDT's performances of those ballets on DVD. There is a review of it in the May Dance Europe. The provincial audience, however, did not do so well-- I heard of several who left the performance after Sarabande (missing the last ballet, Forsythe's In the Middle). I guess this Puritan town just couldn't take a bunch of guys screaming with their pants around their ankles. Oh, but it was good.

Edited by jonellew

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The more I though about it, the more I began to see and appreciate the Christian sensibility in his work (I'm not talking about liturgical dance or anything religious other than the sensibility that is perhaps a result of a Christian society). Of course, Kylian has ballets that are based on spiritual music, but I see the Christian sensibility as a pristineness of form and proportion, and as an innocence. Perhaps what I'm really thinking of is a European sensibility--?

Jonelle - can you illustrate what you mean here? I may just be using terms differently than you, or thinking of different examples. Most recent Kylian I've seen has been relatively dark, rather than innocent. I'm also curious what you see as pristine about his form - I'd agree he is in comparison to his descendants (Duato et al) but less so compared to more formal choreogrpahers (Cunningham, Balanchine).

All the best and glad to see a new face on Ballet Talk.

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Well, I certainly agree with you that Kylian's ballets are dark. I haven't seen his entire body of work, but I suppose the innocence I'm thinking of is most apparent in his humorous pieces-- Symphony in D, for example, and Six Dances. But a sort of innocence (I will think of a better word eventually) seems to me to also pervade the darker works, like Sarabande and Sweet Dreams (or, arguably, the darker sections of all of his works), which may also contain humor (Sarabande definitely does). Even in the serious moments in his ballets, I never feel as if catastrophe or even tragedy could happen. It's as if the people in his ballets have a god who they know will take care of them.

You were right to question my statement about form. I did not mean to talk about choreographic form; I should have written that the form of the body has a certain preciosity in Kylian's work. In most of his ballets, dancers are costumed minimally and delicately in ways that emphasize proportionality. Often, costumes (and I'm not sure who designs them-- does Kylian work with the same designer all the time?) look like undergarments, and so what you have onstage is people who are either freed from or stripped of their constraining clothes. I think this also contributes to my feeling that they seem innocent, or pure-- (they are like little children running around who don't care whether or not they are clothed).

BUT-- even when Kylian's people are undressed, they are not really animalistic or earthy. (Even in Road to the Stamping Ground I find a sort of "cleanness," but this can be easily argued against). I think this sort of denial of animalism is also what makes me agree with Sayers' "Christian" statement in that there is the idea that humanity is created in the form of the divine, rather than evolved from the animals.

Perhaps poorly put, but I hope I'm explaining myself a little. Thanks for making me think!

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Thanks for the explanation, Jonelle.

The interesting thing is some of what you say about Kylian is what I would think about Hans van Manen - although I'm not sure one could call him Christian. I had a really interesting conversation with a friend on van Manen a day or so ago; the thing that he responded to in van Manen was an almost 18th century tendency to catalogue things - he was thinking of the Marquis de Sade. It's a big jump, but from Grosse Fuge or Five Tangos, I knew what he meant, there's a sort of decadence that's intellectual rather than earthy.

I'm probably thinking more of van Manen because I have seen more of his work recently. What Kylian have you seen recently?

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I have not yet had the opportunity to become familiar with van Manen's work, but I am aware of the degree of his influence on Kylian. The conversation with your friend sounds like an interesting one, and I will remember your comments when I do get to see some van Manen.

I recently saw the Boston Ballet do Sarabande and Falling Angels, both of which were extremely well done, in my opinion, and true to the NDT performances of those ballets I've seen on DVD. Several years ago in Colorado I saw the National Ballet of Canada do Soldiers' Mass, which, as I remember, was moving (and I never use that word) even though the dancers were less than what I expected technically. The rest of what I've seen has been on video and DVD, and since our conversation, I'm looking through it all again.

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For fortunate ones who have had the possibility of seeing Jiri Kylian’s choreography by NDT and us lesser mortals who saw the resent ABT’s staging of Sinfonietta and Petit Mort, or the provincial crowd in Boston who are to see Sarabande and Falling Angels, I would like to pose a question: Do you view Jiri Kylian as a modern or a classical choreographer? Why?

If you consider the two categories as too restrictive, how would you characterize his work?

Kylian who is for me the choreographer of the XX century (I hope the Balanchineans don't kill me for saying this) goes beyond any dance format it's not a classical repertoire but it's not a modern. it is Just Kylian. A man who his dance vocabulary is so rich that so far isn't a style in which we can place it yet. Time will say what Kylian is. The same happended with Mozart in his time. Kylian isn't discover yet, historian will do.

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He's a fusion choreographer.  Ballet trained, but not working (at least at present) in the ballet idiom.  I think it would be a major stretch to call him classical, he hasn't done a classical ballet in years (Maybe since Symphony in D?)

I am not a dancer - nor a critic by any means, just a lay observer. So take my opinion with a sack of salt.

I got exposed to Kylián's work last year at Dance Salad in Houston. I saw 27’52, Birth-day, One of a Kind, and Blackbird. This was followed by Petit Mort in ABT's Texas tour last Fall. This year Dance Salad presented Double You. All were presented by a couple of dance companies (Kylian Foundation being the most prominent) from Europe, and trained first hand by Kylian. I got a brief moment with the dancer Václav Kunes, about how he trained for Double You, but did not drill him about Kylián. I think it is an interesting question as to how a choreographer sees themselves. I am sure it changes in time.. and the answer may depend on who is talking to him. I will make it a point to remember to ask that question of other choreographers when ever the appropriate opportunity/situation arises.

I would tend to agree with Leigh Witchel. As much as I enjoy and admire Kylián's works, I would say he is more contemporary than classical. Now I admit I have not seen the full body of his work. I visited the Prix De Lausanne web site and see that Kyliyan's works are a part of the repertoire for selection in the contemporary section for 2006 contestants. Perhaps all of us will get to see the interpretations by the different contestants on the web cast.

Kylian dark? Tough call. Yes some of his works that I have seen do seem dark, but that was bad lighting I think :D I have a dark personality, so probably don't see it! Just kidding. Seriously, some of his works do seem dark..but he seems to be contemplative, humorous, satirical, and serious as well.

Duatos' Remansos, Men’s section and Por Vos Muero were also performed in Dance Salad this year. Duato on the other hand, I think, has a stronger classical feel in his works from the little that I have seen.

I am almost tempted to purchase the "Symphony in D Workshop Video", as I have not seen any of his "classical" works. In addition to rehearsals and a performance of the piece, Kylian talks about his role as a choreographer/dancer. Anyone seen that?

As to the comparisons to Christianity... hmm I have to let that thread go. As a heathen, my ignorance in such matters is best left unexplored.

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There is so much to say about Jiri Kylian. Reading this thread it seems this choreographer isn't very well-known in the USA... This surprises me when I think of the praise the three NDT companies have enjoyed over the years in Europe and across the world, and the fact that so many companies now perform his pieces. Some of his disciples have created great choreographies (Nacho Duato, Paul Lightfoot...), the NDT companies are a unique structure, and he still has so much to offer!... His style has evolved a lot and covered many different grounds since the 70's. The neoclassical "Symphony in D" and "Sinfonietta" have very little in common with last year's "Sleepless" or "Chapeau", but it's easy to recognize his musicality, his sense of humanity and his humour. To me, Kylian's choreographies are never really dark because they're filled with spirituality....

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Joel - you're going to get a very specific viewpoint here because the mission statement of Ballet Talk is to concentrate on classical and neo-classical choreography rather than fusion work such as Kylian or Duato. He's well-known in North America but it isn't really the main subject of the board.

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Leigh, your viewpoint is very specific indeed... My earlier post seems to have bothered you: I only wanted to share my thoughts on a thread entitled "Choreography of Jiri Kylian". Besides, I respect Ballet Talk's mission statement and honestly don't see why I shouldn't write on this board about a choreographer who has created famous neo-classical pieces, performed by many great ballet companies. "Sinfonietta", for example, is universally known as a neo-classical masterpiece. You may call Kylian a "fusion" choreographer -whatever that means- but he does deserve a place in the "main subject of the board".

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I apologize Joel, I wasn't trying to denigrate Kylian, merely to address this remark -

Reading this thread it seems this choreographer isn't very well-known in the USA...

He is well-known in the US, though less well known than choreographers more active in America. Using Ballet Talk as a measure of how well known he is will give a disproportionate response.

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Besides, I respect Ballet Talk's mission statement and honestly don't see why I shouldn't write on this board about a choreographer who has created famous neo-classical pieces, performed by many great ballet companies. "Sinfonietta", for example, is universally known as a neo-classical masterpiece.
I don't think that classifying Kylian's work as "neo-classical" is by any means universal. In fact, many of us here disagree with that classification. We do not doubt that many of his works are performed by great ballet companies, but many great ballet companies also perform works of many non-classical -- neo or otherwise -- choreographers, including modern choreographers like Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham. One look at Week 3 of next year's PNB "Celebrate Seattle Festival" will attest to this.

As Leigh said, this has little to do with whether we like or dislike Kylian's opus or individual works. I once drove took a precious vacation day and drove for four hours each way over a 15-hour period in order to see Les Grands Ballet Canadiens perform Sinfonietta, a work that I love. But I would not classify it as a neo-classical ballet.

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I'm sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. It does not matter to me if someone likes or dislikes Kylian's work because, in my mind, people have the right to have their own opinion and they're always going to get my respect. When I wrote that he did not appear to be very well-known in the US it was a personal impression: a board is there for people to discuss their views politely and that's exactly what I did in my original post (as wrong as I may have been). There is no reason my thoughts should be dryly dismissed as being off-topic.

As far as I know -and this was implied in my post- Jiri Kyian's choreographies have evolved a lot and no longer show the strong classical influence which was present in his early choreographies. It should be said on this thread that Kylian was dancing in Stuttgart when John Cranko was running the company in the seventies. Cranko, whose ballets were deeply rooted in the classical vocabulary, had a great influence on all of the very young choreographers who were around him at the time. This era proved to be extremely productive and it is no secret that many talented figures, like Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, Uwe Scholz or Youri Vamos, have emerged from these surroundings.

I have personally talked to artists such as Egon Madsen, Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun: the essence of the aforementioned choreographers is purely neo-classical since all of it comes from the same source: Mr John Cranko. Of course, their works have slowly evolved and strayed into different territories. Some of them took innovating paths (Forsythe, Kylian) while others remained neo-classical purists, like Scholz, leaving us with a legacy of wonderful pieces.

I hope to discuss the genius of Uwe Scholz with you soon, Helene.

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I'm sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. It does not matter to me if someone likes or dislikes Kylian's work because, in my mind, people have the right to have their own opinion and they're always going to get my respect. When I wrote that he did not appear to be very well-known in the US it was a personal impression: a board is there for people to discuss their views politely and that's exactly what I did in my original post (as wrong as I may have been). There is no reason my thoughts should be dryly dismissed as being off-topic.
Your view was not dismissed. Rather, since, this topic has been discussed many times on the board, you were told what the prevailing community response has been and why.
As far as I know -and this was implied in my post- Jiri Kyian's choreographies have evolved a lot and no longer show the strong classical influence which was present in his early choreographies. It should be said on this thread that Kylian was dancing in Stuttgart when John Cranko was running the company in the seventies. Cranko, whose ballets were deeply rooted in the classical vocabulary, had a great influence on all of the very young choreographers who were around him at the time. This era proved to be extremely productive and it is no secret that many talented figures, like Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, Uwe Scholz or Youri Vamos, have emerged from these surroundings.
I haven't seen any argument that many contemporary choregraphers don't have a strong classical ballet background nor that classical and neo-classical ballet was not their starting point.
I have personally talked to artists such as Egon Madsen, Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun: the essence of the aforementioned choreographers is purely neo-classical since all of it comes from the same source: Mr John Cranko. Of course, their works have slowly evolved and strayed into different territories. Some of them took innovating paths (Forsythe, Kylian)
Many of us agree that these choreographers took paths away from their classical/neo-classical backgrounds, and some of us even agree that these paths are innovative and that the pieces are wonderful. Forsythe in particular has been performed by most of the major companies in the US as well as by POB, Bolshoi, and Mariinsky, and reviews have been reported here. We also have posted when we think the paths have veered from neo-classical ballet into different territory.
while others remained neo-classical purists, like Scholz, leaving us with a legacy of wonderful pieces.

I hope to discuss the genius of Uwe Scholz with you soon, Helene.

I don't know Uwe Scholz' work. I don't think his choregraphy is well-known in America, unlike Kylian's.

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I wonder to what extent part of the problem is that the definition of "neo-classical" seems to vary a lot depending on the country. For example, French dance critics often use the term "neo-classique" for choreographers as diverse as Balanchine, Ashton, Lifar, MacMillan, Béjart, Forsythe, Kylian, Duato or Ek, while I seriously doubt that for example Ek would be considered as "neo-classical" by most US critics. I remember being quite puzzled with such differences in vocabulary and classification when I started reading US based ballet newsgroups and forums, and perhaps it is one of the causes for the disagreements and misunderstandings of this discussion (and it's even worse with the words "contemporain"/"contemporary" as their meanings generally are very different). Actually I now have some trouble understanding what French critics mean by "néo-classique", as it can be, depending on the context, a matter of making works using some ballet steps, or making works performed by ballet-trained dancers and/or by ballet companies, or having received a classical ballet training, etc.

I don't have much time now to look for it, but there must have been some earlier discussions here about the definition(s) of the word "neo-classical", and perhaps it would be interesting to revive it. Joel, you've written, "the essence of the aforementioned choreographers is purely neo-classical since all of it comes from the same source" so if I understand you correctly, for you "neo-classicism" is mostly a matter of having some ballet training ? Perhaps if you explained more precisely what makes you consider Kylian as a neo-classical choreographer, and Leigh and Helene explained more precisely why they think Kylian is not a neo-classical choreographers, the discussion would be easier to understand...

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Helene, maybe "dismissed" was not the appropriate word, but it was clearly signified to me that I was off-topic in a way that I can only describe as "dry".

Having read people's views on this subject I simply decided to share my thoughts. If the community feels that this topic has been discussed too many times, my question is: Why is this thread still running?...

I don't personally try to "classify" choreographers, but I do know about the origins of Kylian's early pieces and I thought it would be interesting to read about them as much as I found it interesting to read about other people's perceptions of these works.

To me, it isn't that important whether "Sinfonietta" is considered a neo-classical ballet or not. It isn't in my intention to argue with anyone over this issue. What matters most is the quality of that piece and its place in the history of choreography. I have gone some way in trying to give informations that were missing from this board -and there are still lots more to say- but now I feel that my perspective is unwelcome or, at least, misunderstood.

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To me, it isn't that important whether "Sinfonietta" is considered a neo-classical ballet or not. It isn't in my intention to argue with anyone over this issue. What matters most is the quality of that piece and its place in the history of choreography. I have gone some way in trying to give informations that were missing from this board -and there are still lots more to say- but now I feel that my perspective is unwelcome or, at least, misunderstood.
The question posed at the beginning of the thread from 2005 was how Kylian would be classified, after the originator saw performance of his work through a ballet company.

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Estelle raises interesting questions about the terms we use. How difficult it is to carry on discussion when we don't share a clearly defined vocabulary with all the participants. This is something than transcends individual choreographers.

I wonder to what extent part of the problem is that the definition of "neo-classical" seems to vary a lot depending on the country. For example, French dance critics often use the term "neo-classique" for choreographers as diverse as Balanchine, Ashton, Lifar, MacMillan, Béjart, Forsythe, Kylian, Duato or Ek, while I seriously doubt that for example Ek would be considered as "neo-classical" by most US critics. I remember being quite puzzled with such differences in vocabulary and classification when I started reading US based ballet newsgroups and forums, and perhaps it is one of the causes for the disagreements and misunderstandings of this discussion (and it's even worse with the words "contemporain"/"contemporary" as their meanings generally are very different).

I've also enjoyed Kylian's work, though most of what I've seen has been on video, danced by the Nederlands Dance Theater. But, as I sit here at the computer, I have to wonder why I can't recall (visualize) a single one of them, except for odd details.

What specifically is there about Kylian -- as contrasted with other choreographers -- that makes him so significant? What images, moods, steps, patterns, or "meanings" does he uniquely provide that make people feel his work will survive into the future and not just be part of an ephemeral present?

(I ask this not to be contentious, but out of a genuine desire to open myself to new experiences and values.)

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To me, Kylian is interesting for the range of his output; it moves from affectionate ballet parody (Symphony in D) early in his career through his Svadebka (Les Noces) and Transfigured Night from the 70s-80s through Stepping Stones through the darker and more modern works of the 90s (Kaguyahime and Fallen Angels for instance.) In the mid 90s NDT came for a blockbuster visit to Brooklyn Academy of Music bringing all three companies, and I was surprised how dark Kylian's output was at the time. Kylian's also one of the strongest proponents for a fusion of modern and ballet vocabulary and training - the dancers are ballet trained but don't have ballet lines and a much lower center of gravity.

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The question posed at the beginning of the thread from 2005 was how Kylian would be classified, after the originator saw performance of his work through a ballet company.

That's exactly what I tried to answer all along.

I would like to add that I agree with Sunpacy's post (july 2nd, 2005). Classifying a choreographer can sometimes prove to be a pointless exercise, even more so in Kylian's case. Since he started choreographing -in surroundings that I've already mentioned- he has created a huge amount of pieces over many years and evolved more than most choreographers of his generation. To anyone who wants to "classify" Jiri Kylian's work I would strongly recommend to take an exhaustive look into his repertoire. It simply can not be judged as a whole.

Bart, I can relate to your experience of watching some of Kylian's choreographies and subsequently not really "remembering" them. His pieces often turn into half-forgotten dreams in the minds of people... It's difficult to explain but there definitely is an abstract/ethereal quality to his style. I think this is one of the particularities that Kylian fans love about his choreographies.

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At the risk of opening another can of worms, I'm wondering how much Kylian is being danced in the States now. I know there's actually quite a bit to see on video, with the attendant benefits and deficits of that medium, but I know I hardly ever get to see anything live here (Seattle).

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