Roslyn Anderson on working with Kylián and news of his future plans

In anticipation of Nederlands Dans Theater’s tour to Sydney next month I recently spoke with Jiri Kylián’s long-term assistant and colleague, Roslyn Anderson, who lives in The Hague.

Coincidentally, our phone chat came just before the news that Jiri Kylián had decided to withdraw his works from Nederlands Dans Theater, for three years, from September 2014.

Anderson didn’t disclose the plan when we spoke – she has known of it for a year – but she was generous with her thoughts on Kylián’s past works and his new ventures.

An Australian, Anderson danced with the Australian Ballet before she joined NDT as a dancer and then became Kylián’s assistant from 1978 to 1993/4.

She now stages about 13 of his works around the world including No More Play, Falling Angels and Petite Mort and was recently with Kylián in Oslo where the Norwegian National Ballet performed a Kylián triple bill of Stepping Stones, Gods and Dogs, and Soldiers Mass.

He travelled from The Hague to Oslo by car and ship. Having developed a fear of flying in recent years he can’t travel long distances unless it’s by ocean liner.

“It’s very sad”, Anderson said, “I keep feeling that for the dancers in Canada, the US, Japan and Australia.

So what is he doing now?

“He’s moved away from big scale works. That happened already some time ago. He’s more interested in working one on one, working with individuals, pulling things out from himself and one individual as in a conversation.

“He’s now turned very much to film, with a small cast and has just finished a new film created in the Czech Republic which I’m curious to see.

“I chatted with him about this in Oslo. [In the film] he has gone back to his youth and he’s examining his life in various ways, sometimes in extreme and almost macabre ways.

“He showed me photos from the filming, and I thought ‘wow, this I have to see’“.

Kylián was working with his wife, Sabine Kupferberg, and other former dancers of NDT III, the (now defunct) troupe he established with mature dancers.

“He still lives in The Hague. We’re neighbours, basically. He’s very happy living here in Holland”.

Kylián is genetically blessed.

“His mother just turned 101 and she’s still very active. And his grandmother passed away just before she turned 100”.

Before the Australian Ballet’s production of his Bella Figura and the Sydney season of NDT Kylián turned down all requests for interviews about his work however Margaret Throsby, on Classic FM, pulled out from the drawer an interesting interview she did with Kylián about a decade ago.

Staging Bella Figura in Sydney was Elke Schepers, one of Kylián’s 12 or 13 stagers who danced in Bella Figura and many other Kylián works for NDT.

“Bella has always been a gem”, Anderson said.

“I just think its one of those magical pieces that will live forever and has such beauty and passion. It is not an easy work and there’s the issue for some people of partial nudity, but it feels like it’s so beautiful. There’s no question of why are they nude, it’s part of humankind and womanhood and Bella Figura is of course ‘beautiful body’. I just think it’s an amazing work”.

Anderson said that Sarabande, part of the NDT program in Australia “was created for men, because Jiri had already created Falling Angels for women so to create a balance he did a piece for six men.

“It has quite a lot of humour in it and a little bit of tongue in cheek humour, playing with men’s egos and feelings and playfulness and enjoyment of life and fun.

“There are microphones in those huge crinolines hanging above them, and it culminates in the beautiful Bach for their solos”.

Sarabande is one of Kylián’s six Black and White ballets that were created as individual works and then “when Petite Mort was created in 1991 and we presented that in Salzburg, that’s when the six works came together and that’s when the title came into being and the links between the six works.

“We were on the plane flying to Salzburg and I said to him ‘how are you going to link these works’ – but colour wise they were all in black and white tones. The link came through the parts of Petite Mort, the crinolines and the foils… he put the six pieces together and it took a life of its own”.

I mentioned that Kylián’s dreams might work their way into many of his ballets.

“Yes, you wonder if they’re [the dreams] in colour or black and white!”

Anderson’s last working visit to Australia was about seven years ago when she staged Kylian’s works for the Australian Ballet but she was here for the 50th anniversary get together of dancers and ex dancers of the company last year.

As for Kylián’s way of communicating now, I mentioned his website.

“He is very proud of it and put in years of work to get it together”, Anderson said.

“He’s been advised by many people and checked with many of us for accuracies, it’s the ultimate website for Jiri’s work, we’re spreading the word”.

As a footnote to this post, a newspaper in The Hague speculated on May 10 that Kylián had disagreed with the artistic direction of NDT. According to the report, the dance world in The Hague dance world had long known that there are tensions between Kylián and NDT.

And if Kylián doesn’t give in depth interviews, he certainly reads reports about himself.

He issued a statement as follows:

“The recent article, entitled headlined “Kylián breekt met NDT”, is a typical example of negative journalism.

It contains some badly researched or untrue information, and seeks negative sensation where there is none….

The fact that from September 2014, NDT will stop performing my repertoire for 3 years, is hardly “Breaking News”!

In fact it is more than one year old.

The reason for this decision is simple: Having been the artistic director of NDT for 24 years and having spent 17 years in other functions, I know how important the constant renewal of the company’s repertoire is!

Particularly now in the midst of a world wide economic and financial crisis, an internationally respected company of the stature of NDT cannot afford to recycle old repertoire.

It desperately needs its financial resources to create new works propelling the company into the future.

And I am very happy to make space for new, innovative and exciting projects”.

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Roslyn Anderson

Brooke Reynolds and Ryan Camou in Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, Smuin Ballet. Photo © Scot Goodman