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Jirí Kylián redefined ballet on an international scale. His choreography melded gorgeously crafted phrases with off-kilter partnering and decidedly human interactions. He built his reputation on a company of exquisite technicians, dancers who are precise, musical, and gifted in a range of vocabularies. Kylián’s trademarks were elegant lines, dramatic flair, and quirky moments that reminded us of his dancers’ humanness. After 36 years with Nederlands Dans Theater, he bid farewell in October, presenting his last choreographic work, Mémoires d’Oubliettes.
NDT has become virtually synonymous with Kylián’s name and ideas. Under his guidance, the company became a three-tiered organization: NDT, the main company; NDT 2 for dancers younger than 23; and NDT 3 for artists over 40. He fostered an environment of living and breathing creativity. In 2004 Kylián stepped down as director to become chief choreographer and artistic adviser. His last choreographic work was inspired by his observation that “the facts of life are never just the facts of life. They are all open to interpretations, modification, adjustments, or fantasies.”
But the home he built for dance in The Hague is a concrete fact: the Lucent Danstheater, headquarters of NDT, was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 1987. It has become a hotspot for artists and audiences who enjoy Kylián’s sinewy, rigorous aesthetic.
In an interview published in Dance Magazine in 1994, Kylián recalled his favorite teacher at the Prague Conservatory, Zora Semberova: “This lady was a teacher who would say to you, ‘I’m sorry I cannot walk you through the door. All I can do is open the door for you; you have to do the walking.’ ”
Kylián extended this gesture to countless artists, including Jim Vincent, NDT’s new director (see “Dance Matters,” Nov.). His ballets remain in the repertories of companies like American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and NDT. Last year he served as a Rolex Mentor to Jason Akira Somma.
Marion Coles (1915–2009)
A lifelong chorus line and tap dancer with a vibrant stage presence, Marion Coles died in November.
Born in Harlem, Coles was introduced to dance through trips to the Savoy Ballroom with her mother. She began her career by competing in Lindy Hop and swing competitions and then performed with Silas Green from New Orleans, an African American variety show that toured the South. In 1936 Coles joined the Apollo Theater’s Number One Chorus Line (and was a leader in a dancers’ strike that led to establishing the American Guild of Variety Artists). In the ’30s and ’40s she also danced with the bands of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie.
In the ’80s, Coles joined Jane Goldberg’s Changing Times Tap Company. Then, along with several other chorus-line veterans, she formed the Silver Belles. They performed around the country for two decades and were the subject of a 2005 documentary, Been Rich All My Life. An active teacher, Coles gave master classes at NYU, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Tulane University, and Queens College, where she received an honorary doctorate in 2002.
Marion was married to tap legend Charles “Honi” Coles, who died in 1992.