Wednesday 26 February 2014

Dances with Jirí Kylián

Dances with Jiří Kylián

This year I'm taking time for more retrospection on periods of enormous creativity, for example in the nineteen-eighties, when I was not only painting landscapes in Burgundy near Chablis, but portraits, musical subjects and more than anything else, dance

I had discovered Jiří Kylián, the amazing choreographer from Prague who would redefine modern ballet for me and perhaps for the world. In the late 1970's he began to create one masterpiece after another for the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague, works that were soon touring internationally.  I became a regular presence in their dance studios, sketching like a man possessed, as I witnessed his choreographies taking shape. I wonder whether Jirí will ever know what an influence he had on my work in that period and how much I loved watching him and his dancers. His musicality and the imaginative ways with which he could give profound personal expression to dance (often reflecting his cultural roots) remain a great inspiration - to this day.           
Photoshoot with Jirí after the hanging of my mural for the Nederlands Dance Theater (1987)

Jiri's Overgrown Path to the solo piano music of Janáček, expressing both agonizing loss and fond memories (those of Janaček and Jirí, I believe), inspired a series of watercolours. As the haunting tones of the piano float in space, dancers meet, embrace, take their leave and part for ever.

Overgrown Path I (Kylián/Janaček), watercolour 70 x 50cm, 1980

Overgrown Path ll, (Kylián/Janaček), watercolour, 1985/7.

Jirí's Sinfonietta (1978) was perhaps the masterpiece that took the world by storm. Janáček's exuberant fanfare - a celebration of Czechoslovakia - was danced with astonishing brilliance by the Netherlands Dance Theater, as they leaped across that eighteen-metre stage (to get that thrill, watch the video here). The leaps, the gestures to the skies, are there in my watercolour, but instead of the decor of subtle greens and greys, my exhilaration at the sounds of those wind instruments compelled me to choose the warm colours you see below.

Sinfonietta (Kylián/Janáček), watercolour and oil pastel, 1986/87.

Actually, many of my finished watercolours were developed sometime after the rough sketches I made in the theatre. I needed time to "choreograph" my gestures in the empty space of my paper, as explained in my blog The beauty of space and silence. I was gradually worked towards two separate one-man shows in The Hague in 1987 and 1989. I look back with fond nostalgia to that era with Jirí and his dancers, when every day I left their studios walking on air, a would-be dancer whose technique happened to be painting. Perhaps the highlight was a modern ballet Invention for NDT in 1989 (co-created with Philip Taylor), when my kinetic painting flooded the dancers with colours as they danced across my huge white decors. But that's another story, that I posted here.