Kylián is Catching On—Finally

March 7, 2014

JiÅ™í Kylián has been a gigantic influence in Europe for decades, but it’s been rare to see his works in the U.S. Now, suddenly, his choreography is highly visible. This week, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents four of his pieces in its Dive Deep program, March 13–16.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rehearsing for its all-Kylián Dive Deep program. Photo by Quinn B. Wharton, courtesy Hubbard Street.


The creative powerhouse behind one of the most innovative dance companies in the worldNederlands Dans TheaterKylián has merged the technical facility of ballet with the full-body expressiveness of modern dance. NDT’s visits here are few and far between, but Hubbard Street has had such a long history with Kylián that HSDC director Glenn Edgerton chose him to be the first choreographer the company is devoting a whole evening to.


In praising Kylián’s process with dancers, Edgerton told Dance Magazine, “Getting to the root and essence of a phrase and finding the emotion that comes from that movement, and how that resonates with the public—drawing that out in a dancer—is an exciting process.” (To find the news story that was quoted from, click here and scroll down.)


The most visible Kylián piece in this country is the gorgeous Petite Mort (1991). American Ballet Theatre, Ballet West, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet (which was the first American company to do Kylián a big way), and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater have all done it. The men slash their swords with precision, and the women step outside of dresses that glide around by themselves—all working up to sexy, athletic duets.


AAADT’s Yannick Lebrun, Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Antonio Douthit-Boyd in
Petite Mort. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT.


I also love the percussive Stamping Ground (1983), as performed by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Joyce two years ago. Its constantly unfolding inventiveness is matched by an exuberant sense of fun.


And Juilliard has done a number of Kylián works, including a powerful rendition of the all-male Soldiers’ Mass in 2007. (The noble weightiness of this piece reminded me so much of José Limón that I started asking around, and found out that Kylián was indeed influenced by Limón at one point.)


The Joffrey and Houston Ballets also have a connection to Kylián. The Joffrey did Forgotten Land last year, having acquired it in 1985. Next year Houston Ballet will be doing Kylián’s Svadebka, which Stanton Welch mentions in this Choreography in Focusas having an almost cinematic sweep.


The Joffrey’s Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein in
Forgotten Land. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.


If you want to know more about this giant figure on the dance landscape, read Joseph Carman’s excellent article about the DVD documentary on him here.


Oh, and if you want to know how Kylián really feels about harsh dance critics, click here.