Inside DM

10 Minutes With Jirí Kylián

The legendary choreographer takes on a new role.

At 69, Jirí Kylián is back in a leadership role in ballet. In 2009, he parted ways with Nederlands Dans Theater after 24 years as artistic director and another decade as resident choreographer; the company shelved his works entirely in 2014. The Czech luminary has since stopped making new pieces for the stage to focus on film and photography, but his blend of classical lines and contemporary fluidity remains a cornerstone of neoclassical ballet worldwide. Starting this season, it will have a new home at the Lyon Opera Ballet, where Kylián is taking up a position as associate artist with a three-year contract.

Kylián’s Sleepless. Photo by Joris Jan Bos, Courtesy Lyon Opera Ballet.

Why did you say yes to becoming associate artist in Lyon?

I started working with the Lyon Opera Ballet in the early 1980s, when Françoise Adret was the director of the company, so it’s a long tradition for me. The current artistic director, Yorgos Loukos, simply asked me to take a more prominent role.

How much time will you spend in Lyon?

We’re still negotiating the plan, but it won’t be as regular as you might think. I won’t be there every month. The company will present existing ballets, including the ones that are already in the repertoire, and I will also present works that I made for older dancers and a photography exhibition, Free Fall.

You have exactly 100 works for the stage listed on your website. Do you have any plans to make new ones?

For now, no. I’m concentrating on film and photography. But once a choreographer, always a choreographer. The danger that I will start choreographing again is great. [Laughs]

What prompted that shift towards photography and film?

I’m interested in the tension between what is alive and what is dead, like photos and film. I’m very old now, I’m almost 70, so death is coming, it is closer to me. Even the photos that I make have some kind of choreography in them, however. I was busy making movement all my life, and I call my images frozen choreography.

You’ve also completed two short films this year, including Oskar for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

You can get closer to faces with film. Onstage, you can be a fantastic dancer, but you’re still removed from the public. I’m interested in working with older dancers, including my partner of 43 years, Sabine Kupferberg. Their faces speak of incredible experience. They are like a map of the world, with so much written inside.

You’ve withdrawn your works from the repertoire of Nederlands Dans Theater for three years, until 2017. Will they be reintroduced next year?

There are no plans to reintroduce my work to the repertoire, and I encourage that. They’re doing fantastically well, and they should keep going the way they have. Before the Kylián period at NDT, there was a Glen Tetley and Hans van Manen period, and now it’s a new one—the company has always renewed itself and been at the forefront of dance’s development. I didn’t want to hang there like an ever-present shadow.

Have you taken any steps for the long-term preservation of your work?

All my work is digitalized. It’s not for my own glory—when I go, I want to make sure that there is good information available, so that people who are interested in what happened can have truthful sources.

Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.

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Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:

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Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?

The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."

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From left, Ethel Merman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Debbie Allen. All Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.

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Advice for Dancers
A dance career can send you on a roller coaster of emotions, but evaluating reality can help give you perspective. Thinkstock.

I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.

—Terry, Philadelphia, PA

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