He started his dance career at the age of nine, at the School of the National Ballet in Prague. In 1962 he was accepted as a student at the Prague Conservatory. He left Prague when he received a scholarship for the Royal Ballet School in London in 1967. After this, he left to join the Stuttgart Ballett led by John Cranko. Kylián made his debut as a choreographer here with Paradox for the Noverre Gesellschaft. After having created three ballets for NDT (Viewers, Stoolgame and La Cathédrale Engloutie), Kylián became the company’s artistic director in 1975 together with Hans Knill. In 1978 he put Nederlands Dans Theater on the international map with Sinfonietta. That same year, together with Carel Birnie, he founded NDT 2, which served as a bridge between school and professional company life and was meant to give young dancers the opportunity to develop their skills and talents and to function as a breeding ground for young talent. In 1991 he initiated NDT 3; a company that created opportunities for older dancers, above forty years of age. This three dimensional structure was unique in the world of dance. After an extraordinary record of service, Kylián handed over the artistic leadership in 1999, but remained the company’s house choreographer until December 2009.
Since his last piece Mémoires d’Oubliettes for NDT in 2009, Kylián’s creative focus has shifted to more small scale projects and films. Kylián’s entire body of work counts 100 creations to date, of which 77 performed by NDT and no less than 75 were especially created for the company. Furthermore, he made pieces for companies worldwide such as the Stuttgart Ballet, the Opéra de Paris, the Munich Bayerisches Staatsballett, and the Tokyo Ballet.
Kylián received many prestigious, international awards and honours, such as Officer of the Royal Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau, Honorary Medal of Order for Arts and Science of the House of Orange given to him by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, honorary doctorate of the Juilliard School in New York and the Honorary Medal from the President of the Czech Republic.
In March 2019 Kylián was inaugurated as a member of the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris. This highly prestigious recognition was complimented with the Academy’s decision to change its statutes and add a special seat for ‘dance’.
To this day, Kylián’s masterpieces are frequently performed by numerous dance companies and schools around the world.