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Jiri Kylian talks about his film Scalamare as The Hague celebrates his works (Interview & Review)

by Helma Klooss
March 31, 2017
Helma Klooss is a Netherlands-based dance writer and festival organizer. More about her dance festivals can be found at www.danskaravaan.nl, www.danskaravaan-educatief.nl and www.stranddans.nl
To celebrate his 70th birthday, Jiri Kylian was honored on March 28, 2017 in his hometown of The Hague by a diverse program of his impressive choreographies and his latest work Scalamare, a film and a photo exposition. Until 2009, Kylian was artistic leader and choreographer of the Netherlands Dance Theater (NDT), the company which he made world-famous through his ballets. After creating more than a hundred choreographies in his thirty-plus years at NDT that were staged and cheered worldwide, Mr. Kylian nowadays has turned his attention to photography and film.

I spoke with Mr. Kylian in the studio about the film.

“The idea for Scalamare started when I visited the film festival in Ancona, Italy. I was taken to the Monumento Ai Caduti, a monument for the fallen, gorgeously situated on the ocean. I was fascinated by the symbolism of the place – the sea that gives and takes – and by the angle of the light on the long steps, which caused me to see my own shadow disintegrate into geometric patterns, like a Malevich painting.”

Kylian then described his vision for the film: “On the steps there is an old couple, who are celebrating their 40th year of marriage by returning to the spot of their honeymoon. They realize that they have arrived at an end state of their life and decide to end it right there on the steps and walk into the sea. The film doesn’t have a logical order of scenes, it is more a surrealistic film influenced by Magritte. Death for me is a farewell, it is a kind of nostalgic celebration of life,” explained Kylian.

In the screening of Scalamare, it began with an orchestra of seemingly a thousand strings playing Mantovani, creating an underlining romantic atmosphere. The camera pans from inland country shot towards the seaside. An elegant couple with suitcases moves in synchronic steps on the top of a hill,
they wave their hats, they smile and laugh at one another. In between shots of a seagulls, clouds in a sunny blue sky and waves are some shots in reverse or fast forward. The man and woman kiss, hug, their faces are in contemplation as if thinking of their memories. In close-up they look very handsome and very much in love. They do funny things like chewing and sharing gum. They walk along a wall until they come to the top of a set of long grey stone steps and look down towards the sea.

A sudden reversal in the mood occurs, the sun creates huge shadows of their bodies on the stairs, the clouds become darker and darker. The dancers lay down on the steps and roll over them. The woman loses a pearl, the man grabs in her blouse and finds it; she undresses him and he touches her face. The shadows grow stronger, the moon covers the sun, the clouds get greyer, the sea wilder and a screeching crow flies over; disaster threatens. We see and hear only her pearls clatter on the pavement, their lives are coming to an end.

Scalamare is danced by his wife of 40-years and muse Sabine Kupferberg (65) and Peter Jolesch.

“The music is the composition "Charmaine" by the Italian composer Mantovani, a popstar from the fifties and sixties and this music gives that nostalgic kitsch feeling from that time,” says Kylian.

About his filmmaking method Kylian explained that the scenes were shot on location at Monumento Ai Caduti, after drawing a storyboard first. The film was arranged by Han Otten and filmed by Jan Malir.

The program also contained Kylian and Michael Schumacher's magical dance-theater work Last Touch First performed by former NDT3 dancers (NDT's company of dancers aged over 40). It was inspired by the plays of Anton Chekhov and set to an original score by Dirk Haubrich. Choreographed in fluent slow motion movements the work was about six lonely people seeking a sense of togetherness through contact. Kylian always liked the theatricality of his dancers but over the years he is more and more interested in the expressiveness of tiny movements in which a lot happens, especially in slow motion. This, along with his great sense of sensuality, brought this piece to exciting heights.

Kylian's hilarious work Birth-Day performed by the same NDT3 dancers, it was created on various compositions of Mozart and closed the evening. Most of the ballet was on film while the dancers in their baroque costumes, wigs and fans sat at a long table gossiping in front of the video screen. In the film Kylian plays again with time, space and focus which beautifully disguises the age of his dancers. In Birth-Day one can feel the influence of Kylian's admiration for Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in the scenes about lovemaking in the bedroom or mixing dough in the kitchen.

“Mozart understood that life was no more than a masquerade for something much more deep and meaningful,” reflected Kylian.

NDT's current company was not involved in the celebration program since Kylian withdrew his ballets from NDT for three years. That moratorium ends this September.

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Norwegian Ballet however have a long relation with Kylian’s ballets and will perform in this celebration program later in 2017 (see below for dates).

The celebration of Kylian’s works continues through November in The Hague at the Korzo Theater and Zuiderstrandtheater. Introdans will perform a program in Arnhem.

Here are the remaining dates:

May 10-12 - Kylian's East Shadow performed by former NDT3 dancers and the photographic exposition Free Fall.

June 16 & 17 - Kylian's One of a Kind performed by students of the Royal Conservatory and Codarts.

October 12 & 13 - Kylian's Bella Figura performed by Les Ballets de Monaco.

November 25 & 26 - Kylian's Black and White ballets performed by the Norwegian National Ballet.
Jiri Kylian

Jiri Kylian

Photo © & courtesy of Anton Corbijn


A scene from 'Scalamare.'

A scene from "Scalamare."


Jiri Kylian and Michael Schumacher's 'Last Touch First.'

Jiri Kylian and Michael Schumacher's "Last Touch First."

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Benschop


Jiri Kylian's 'Birth-Day.'

Jiri Kylian's "Birth-Day."

Photo © & courtesy of Joris Jan Bos

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