Wednesday 5 May 2010
A conversation with Jiri Kylian
Kaguyahime enters the Paris Opera Ballet's repertoire

At the Opera Bastille from 11 June to 15 July, guest choreographer Jiri Kylián renews his collaboration with our ballet company bringing a new work to the repertoire, Kaguyahime, created more than twenty years ago for his own company. Far from any folklore, the choreographer sets a universal and timeless ancestral tale to dance.

What was your main source of inspiration for Kaguyahime?
Jiri Kylián : The ballet has its roots in the Japanese legend of princess Kaguyahime and, although the story dates from the 7th century, I fear it is just as topical as it was yesterday and will most probably be tomorrow. This ancestral tale relates the story of a princess who has come down from the moon to bring peace and love to all men. But she is so beautiful that men kill one another to possess her. Each wants her for himself and this leads to wars, rivalries and disasters. And, since she does not want to see such suffering, Kaguyahime decides to return to where she came from. Unfortunately, greed, jealousy and violence… these themes never leave us from the day we are born until the day we die. And this will always be so as long as men exist.

This is the first time you have worked on the stage of the Opera Bastille. Has it influenced your work ?
Jiri Kylián :
It's an extraordinary space, a magnificent theatre, ideal for this work in particular. The Opera Bastille really suits the ballet. It seems to me that from an aesthetic point of view, the work with its tones of black, white and red, will be perfectly at home in the "modernity" of the Bastille auditorium. The technical equipment is extremely modern and there is all the space needed to house the immense percussion ensemble that accompanies the ballet.

Can you speak to us about the music ?
Jiri Kylián : The score was composed by Maki Ishii, who has since passed away, and who himself conducted the performances in 1991. It was the composer himself who suggested that I set a choreography to this music. I accepted without hesitation and with great enthusiasm because its force and deep sensitivity had immediately inspired me. In Japan it is not a sound's clarity that counts but its emotional content. It's a contemporary score, performed on the one hand by the Kodo ensemble and on the other by European percussionists. The orchestra thus brings together a group of Oriental percussionists and a group of Western ones. Three musicians from the Gagaku Ensemble are also invited to participate on three traditional instruments: the ryuteki (bamboo flute), the hichiriki (a double reed instrument) and the sho (mouth organ). Lastly, the most impressive instrument is the daiko, this huge Japanese drum placed on the stage, around which the performance space and the ballet are built, and which symbolises the moon in a certain manner.

The ballet's inspiration is unmistakably Japanese. Could one say that you are, more generally speaking, attracted to this culture ?
Jiri Kylián : I have always had a profound admiration for Japanese thinking which, although often so complex, always returns to something simple. Japanese culture also has this concept of "full emptiness". It's a little bit like in a Zen garden: it's empty but the spirituality that dwells there is very present. As regards the rhythm, there is a word that doesn't exist in our language to describe this invisible force, this pause between one thing and another. It's indescribable, utterly personal but deeply felt. Most of the Japanese artists with whom I have worked integrate this philosophy of the vacuum and simplicity which I greatly admire. I like Toru Takemitsu's music and he has become a close friend. His works have been used for three of my ballets Torso, November Steps, Dream Time. I collaborated with the architect Atsushi Kitagawara for One of a Kind, with the sculptor Susumu Shingu for Toss of a Dice (after the poem by Mallarmé entitled Un Coup de dés), and more recently with the costume designer Yoshiki Ishinuma for Migratory Birds, for the Munich Ballet.

What does it mean for you to work with dancers who are not always familiar with your language ?
Jiri Kylián : It seems to me that nowadays there are so many foreign guest companies and that it's so easy to travel and thanks to Internet to widen one's horizons, that dancers are much more open than before. Their conception of dance has completely changed. Both morally and physically they are far more open to all sorts of styles and influences. If I had come to work at the Opera thirty years ago, there would probably have been a certain form of resistance to my strange language, and this particular way of moving. This is not the case today. It's quite clear that Brigitte Lefèvre's artistic policy has made it possible to break down the barriers between contemporary and classical dance. The dancers pass from one language to another and it is marvellous to see choreographers and colleagues, like Pina Bausch, who sadly left us recently, Angelin Preljocaj, William Forsythe, and so many others, working with the company. It helps us to understand that a theatre is not a museum and that we who create today are writing the history of tomorrow…

From a conversation published in En Scène – the Opera's magazine – May/July 2010