What dreams might come as Kylián sleeps

Hamlet asked “what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?”

Doubters of the afterlife would say “none”.

Instead of worrying about “the sleep of death”, it might be more productive to interpret the fantastical dreams that come in our sleep of life and to use them as a creative springboard.

Jiri Kylián certainly seems to have done so.

I’ve written about his recently created website but only skimmed the surface of what was there.

A further, longer look took me to Kylián’s explanations of his works, such as Sweet Dreams a piece for four couples and a few dozen green apples.

Sweet Dreams opens with a woman walking on apples but soon after comes the intricate heart of the work – duets in which it’s usually the women who hold the apples in their hands or mouths as they are manipulated by their male partners.

Kylián explains: “The apple is a traditional symbol of temptation and guilt, degrading the act of love to a sinful event…” It is, he writes, “up to us to identify or to distance ourselves from this pre-conceived burden” of guilt.

But if Sweet Dreams was just about the apple as a symbol of temptation that would be too simple.

It’s the dream part of the Sweet Dreams that is more interesting. Like so many of Kylián’s works, the piece dives into the murky waters of the subconscious. The dreams we see on stage are not sweet but they’re not nightmares either, more like the half remembered nonsensical images that linger briefly after we wake.

Danced to Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, Sweet Dreams is a work of opposites, with the music, written at a time when Webern was grieving deeply for the death of his mother, contrasting with the funny, sexy or absurd poses and gestures of the dancers who spend much of the work with the apples appearing to dictate their moods or movement.

Kylián also writes that Sweet Dreams is inspired by the work of Franz Kafka who, he reveals, has had a major influence on his spirituality.

The Kafka connection makes sense.

As Kafka’s biographer, Pietro Citati wrote: “Kafka’s writing is a roll of the dice flung into the void,” which simultaneously puts forward “opposing hypotheses, to exhaust the mind’s possibilities”.

Kylián’s works can exhaust the mind’s possibilities too, or you can just go along with the ride. I think he would prefer the latter.

Sweet Dreams is one of six works on the DVD, Black & White Ballets, Jiri Kylián, choreographer; Netherlands Dance Theater, Arthaus Musik. The others are Falling Angels, Six Dances, No More Play, Sarabande and Petite Mort.

Sweet Dreams and Sarabande will be performed by Nederlands Dans Theater at the Sydney Opera House next June.

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Sweet Dreams, Nederlands Dans Theater, photo © Joris Jan Bos

Sweet Dreams, Nederlands Dans Theater, photo © Joris Jan Bos