Artistic Director’s Notebook: Petite Mort, Sechs Tänze, Forgotten Land, Emergence

In April of 2011, I had the pleasure of traveling to Den Hague in the Netherlands to meet with one of the greatest choreographers of our time, Jiri Kylian. Jiri doesn’t travel far from home, so I went to him. I was there to request permission for PNB to perform the program you are about to see. After the wild success of Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, I wanted to continue to build our company’s collection of works by the choreographer. Jiri recommended Forgotten Land as a next step for us. He then proceeded to talk about the Pink Panther, a film he was working on with his life partner, Sabine Kupferberg, and ballerina Sylvie Guillem. We then watched outtakes of Sylvie and Sabine vamping for the camera on his iPhone.

For all of Jiri Kylian’s extraordinary success as a choreographer whose work is seen around the world and revered by audiences, dancers, and fellow choreographers, it was both refreshing and wonderful to watch him blush when I told him about our audience’s response to his work. He returned the compliment saying that he admired the DVDs of our performances and held our dancers in high regard. He was also swayed by the endorsement we received from stager Roslyn Anderson.

Choreographer Jiri Kylian. Photo by Hans Gerritsen. 

When I watch Jiri Kylian’s choreography, I am constantly struck by his unwavering ability to invent new form. Haven’t we seen it all before? We are talking about two arms and two legs here, and yet he seems to be melding paint, clay, emotion, and the matrix. There is also honesty in his work that never strays far from the human condition. His rubbery dancers lust, laugh, cry, yearn; they are us, only more flexible. I grew up watching the works of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins and have a similar reverence for the two, but discovering the genius of Kylian was like discovering a cool second wind. How fortunate we are to have a small collection of his oeuvres; may it continue to grow.

Perhaps the one constant in this program is the Netherlands Dans Theater, where Kylian served as artistic director and principal choreographer from 1975 to 2004. Crystal Pite is currently an associate choreographer for the company in addition to leading her own phenomenal Vancouver based troupe, Kidd Pivot. Many in Seattle have been fortunate enough to see Kidd Pivot during annual appearances at On the Boards. If you haven’t, go.

Emergence choreographer Crystal Pite at work in the PNB studios.

Originally from Victoria, BC, Crystal started her career with Ballet British Columbia and later headed halfway around the world to dance for William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. You can see Forsythe’s influence in her work, but Crystal is her own thinker and her own animal; no imitations here.

Emergence is a mind-boggling work created in 2009 for the National Ballet of Canada. Exploring and comparing the patterns of a large-scale classical ballet company and the working patterns of bees, the piece addresses the balance between hierarchy and the mindset of the masses. Dancers morph into creatures with articulation of the back, elbow, wrist, and knee that seems beyond the human form, and yet the movement flows naturally. They exist in a hive-like structure, brilliantly designed by Jay Gower Taylor, and enter through an ominous tunnel of light.

Crystal has stepped away from performing, but to see and hear her in the studio is a lesson in clarity and generosity. It is our great fortune to have had her in Seattle for several weeks helping to stage and redevelop this work. The past year was supposed to be a sabbatical for her, but clearly she has no sense of downtime. You might call her a worker bee. Emergence is PNB’s first work by Crystal, and I hope it’s the first of many. She, like Jiri Kylian, is one of the remarkable innovators of our time, reminding us that expression through dance, movement, and music in the hands of a great choreographer is still ripe with new discoveries.

Featured photo: Kaori Nakamura and PNB Company dancers in Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort. Photo: Angela Sterling.