Simple, but complicated

Simple, but complicated

by Jiří Kylián, former artistic director & choreographer, and Sabine Kupferberg, former dancer

choreography: mémoires d’oubliettes by Jiří Kylián
photo: jason akira somma

“My story is simple – but complicated. I’ll try to give you the simple version! Sabine and I spent most of our creative life with NDT. In 1975, I became its Artistic Director together with Hans Knill. I was 28 and Sabine 24. The company was in a post-traumatic situation after the departure of Glen Tetley and Hans van Manen. But such a situation can be an interesting ground for an inexperienced and ambitious new Artistic Director.”

“The beginnings were challenging to say the least. The organization was not well structured, and its powerful and charismatic founding director, Carel Birnie, was suspended by the board of directors. But he contested this decision successfully and was reappointed in his position as Director. However, the fact that I was chosen as the company’s new Artistic Director by NDT’s board of directors against Carel Birnie’s will, made our relationship very difficult. Many dancers were also not very happy with my engagement, and left…. But some dancers understood that there was a possibility to make a new start. They probably felt that I was serious. So we started working.

It took three years to lay aside any mistrust between Carel and myself. I was offered to create a choreography to Leoš Janáček’s ‘Sinfonietta‘ for the Charleston Festival (USA) in 1978. Carel Birnie warned me that there was not enough time for the creation process, but I decided to go for it. At that moment Carel took my hand and said: “O.K. now we will do it together.” And so we did….! The success of Sinfonietta was overwhelming and opened many doors for NDT. Countless tours to big and small places of the world followed: a kibbutz in Israel, Metropolitan Opera house N.Y., Paris Opera and a dangerous guest appearance in communist Czechoslovakia in 1982 (I only had a ‘stateless’ passport in my hands)….!”

'Silent Cries', 1986, Photo: Joris-Jan Bos

With great pleasure and with some inevitable complications, I have tried my best to provide the company and our audiences the very best choreography available.

NDT 2

“In 1978 Carel Birnie and I thought that NDT should have a ‘Junior company‘ and so we founded NDT 2. It was designed for dancers fresh from the academy, to enable their entry into the NDT’s main company.

This worked extremely well, and soon about eighty percent of NDT dancers were ex dancers from the ‘Junior company’. With great pleasure and with some inevitable complications, I have tried my best to provide the company and our audiences the very best choreography available.

My strategy was:
1) to be the Artistic Director and choreographer of the company and produce my own work
2) to preserve and represent NDT’s existing tradition
3) to invite the very best choreographers to create for the company….
4) to stimulate home grown young talent….”

Jiří Kylián and Carel Birnie
NDT 3

“All these ideas opened a new and inspiring space for many creative people and laid a base for new adventures. Not until later did I realize that entering the company was not the only difficulty, leaving it was just as complex. That is why I started a new – very small company for senior dancers. I called it NDT 3. The first performance was presented on November 8, 1991 with creations by Hans van Manen, Mats Ek, William Forsythe and myself. It was instantly recognized by the dancers, the audiences, and the media as an important contribution to the dance world. This tiny company with only four dancers, existed for fifteen years, and was dissolved in 2006 due to a lack of fantasy and mismanagement.

Being an Artistic Director to a dance company for so many years is not easy, particularly when your partner is one of its members. But Sabine became a very well integrated and respected member of NDT. Even taking part in critical discussions about the artistic directorship. These were very turbulent but exciting and rewarding times!”

Our theatre was the very first building he ever built and I must admit that it was one of the highlights of my career

Jiří Kylián and Sabine Kupfenberg. Photo: Loes Schakenbos.
Lucent Danstheater

“The year 1987 marked a major breakthrough for the company. It was the year in which we were able to build our own theatre. And the architect was no one less than Rem Koolhaas. Our theatre was the very first building he ever built and I must admit that it was one of the highlights of my career. We have celebrated many premieres of famous and less famous choreographers, many anniversaries, saw a few disappointments and unhappy moments, and some inevitable ‘Greek dramas‘. One of the finest moments this theatre experienced was the premiere of Arcimboldo. All three companies took part in it, and all creative forces of the company contributed to its success. One of lowest points in my life was the demolition of this remarkable building. However all in all it was an interesting time bringing together many people of all walks of life: stage hands, costume makers, household workers, directors, office people, canteen staff and so on… NDT also produced a remarkable amount of choreographers, teachers and artistic directors and other creative minds spreading the spirit of NDT around world.

Enjoy creation!
Good luck to you all.”

From: Nederlands Dans Theater | 60 – EAN 9789462622425