Culture | Seeing the music

Dance show pays tribute to legendary choreographer Jiri Kylian

“When you meet a person like Jiri Kylian, you want everyone to get a chance to know that person!” says Anik Bissonette excitedly. Bissonnette, the beloved Québécoise dancer, is talking about the motivation behind her latest project, Kylian le Grand. The show was conceived by Bissonette and Mario Radacovsky, a dancer and the current director of the Slovak National Ballet Theatre. Together, they have masterminded a large-scale tribute – featuring an international cast of more than 20 dancers, five choreographers, and archival film segments – to the man who may just be his generation’s greatest choreographer.

Czech-born Kylian is widely recognized as a brilliant creator. His name has become synonymous with the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), one of the most innovative modern dance companies in existence, and the company with which he has spent the bulk of his choreographic career. In his 33 years with NDT, Kylian has created more than 70 works for the company – that’s not including the dances he’s choreographed for other organizations.

But while Bissonette and Radacovsky will be the first to tell you that Kylian has had tremendous success as a choreographer, their reasons for creating this tribute to him go above and beyond his achievements. “For us, Kylian is one of the best choreographers in the world. But he is not only a wonderful choreographer, he is a wonderful human being,” Bissonette explains. “He is extremely generous in the way he works, with his dancers, and with all of the people around him.”

Kylian le Grand began as a desire to share this person with the world. The choreographer no longer travels, so since they couldn’t bring him here, Bissonette and Radacovsky went to Kylian, armed with a video camera. “And we had this big interview with him about how he started dancing [and] how he thinks about choreography,” Bissonette says. “The idea was to bring people – normal people, not just lovers of dance – closer to one of the greatest choreographers in the world,” Radacovsky adds.

From there, the project began to grow. Bissonette and Radacovsky tried to weave Kylian’s spirit into all aspects of the work; every detail reflects who he is and what he values. Markedly, the tribute features dances not only by Kylian himself, but also by Lightfoot/Leon, Johan Inger, and Radacovsky. The decision to include a variety of voices stems from the fact that, according to Radacovsky, “Jiri is one of those choreographers who was never afraid to invite others to create work for the company. Not all artistic directors are so generous. He wanted the best for his company, and he wanted to challenge his dancers. He wasn’t afraid of the competition.” Further, the fact that Lightfoot/Leon, Inger, and Radacovsky were all mentored by Kylian exemplifies his longstanding dedication to nurturing and promoting new talent.

That so many choreographers and dancers want to be involved with Kylian is a testament not only to his character, but also to the strength of his work. When asked what it is that makes his choreography so powerful, Bissonette and Radacovsky don’t even need to stop and think. “Musicality” Bissonette instantly replies. “When you watch a piece of his you are able not only to hear the music, but also to see the music. This is unique to Jiri.”

Radacovsky seconds this: “For Kylian, it is very important to make things that are aesthetically beautiful. But also, it’s the way he creates. It is more than choreography. He puts his whole philosophy on the stage; everything he believes is translated into the work. Also, he is always coming up with something new. He’s one of those artists that can surprise you every time. And he’s 62 now! But he keeps evolving. I always wonder what he will do next, what he will do ten or 20 years from now.”

Both Bissonette and Radacovsky are also quick to note the incredible amount of knowledge that Kylian brings to his work. Radacovsky calls him a walking encyclopaedia, likening the choreographer’s mind to a vast storehouse of information about art, music, and culture that he uses to inform his dances. It is this multidisciplinary, many-layered man that Bissonette and Radacovsky wish to show to the world with Kylian le Grand. Judging by the passion with which they have approached the task, they shouldn’t have much difficulty.