Modern Masters Features Company Premiere of Jiří Kylián's
Comic Sech Tanze in May 2014
From May 22 – June 1, 2014 Houston Ballet offers up a mixed repertory program titled Modern Masters featuring the company premiere of Jiří Kylián's comic and delightful Sech Tanze (Six Dances), along with revivals of his playful and sexy work Petite Mort, William Forsythe's explosive In the middle, somewhat elevated and George Balanchine's complex and inventive The Four Temperaments.
Mr. Kylián created Sech Tanze (Six Dances) for the Nederlands Dans Theatre where it received its world premiere at the Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam on October 24, 1986. Set to Mozart's Six German Dances, the ballet showcases speedy and slightly madcap partnering, as well as Mr. Kylián's unique sense of humor.
"Two centuries separate us from the time Mozart wrote his German Dances. A historical period shaped considerably by wars, revolutions and all sorts of upheavals. With this mind, I found it impossible to simply create different dance numbers reflecting merely the humor and musical brilliance of the composer. Instead, I have set six seemingly nonsensical acts, which obviously ignore their surroundings. They are dwarfed in face of the ever present troubled world, which most of us for some unspecified reason carry in our souls," said Mr. Kylián.
Writing for The Age, dance critic Hilary Crampton praises the ballet saying, "Sechs Tanze is an irreverent romp through the intrigues of Baroque court life - men in powdered wigs, women in garish, exaggerated make-up, disporting themselves flirtatiously, ridiculously, in endless dangerous liaisons. The self-mobilising black crinolines reappear, bodies pierced with fencing foils draped across them. The movement is wacky, awkwardly exaggerated. Kylián deliberately matches action and musical dynamic - a visual replication that emphasizes the comedy." (June 27, 2005.)
Mr. Kylián created Petite Mort especially for the Salzburg Festival in 1991 on the second centenary of Mozart's death. For his work, he chose the slow parts of two of Mozart's most beautiful and popular piano concertos (the adagio section of Piano Concerto in A Major KV 488 and the andante section of the Piano Concerto in C Major KV 467). Petite Mort, which literally means 'small death', serves as a paraphrase for orgasm in French and Arabic.
"This deliberate choice should not be seen as provocation or thoughtlessness – rather as my way to acknowledge the fact that I am living and working as part of a world where nothing is sacred, where brutality and arbitrariness are commonplace. It should convey the idea of two antique torsos, heads and limbs cut off – evidence of intended mutilation – without being able to destroy their beauty reflecting the spiritual power of their creator," commented Mr. Kylián.
The choreography includes six men, six women and six swords. The swords function at times almost as dance partners, and, on several occasions seem more unruly and obstinate than a partner of flesh and blood. Aggression, sexuality, energy, silence, cultivated senselessness and vulnerability all play a significant part in the work.
"Houston Ballet raises temperatures with this company premiere," wrote Marene Gustin in the Houston Press on September 27, 2007. "With the dancers sporting barely-there costumes and crashing through the choreography . . . this is truly mesmerizing stuff."
Born in Prague, Jiří Kylián studied at Prague National Theatre, Prague Conservatory and The Royal Ballet School in London before joining Stuttgart Ballet in 1968 under the direction of John Cranko. There Mr. Cranko helped cultivate Mr. Kylián as a student and choreographer which lead to him setting his first work for Stuttgart Ballet in 1970. Mr. Kylián joined Nederlands Dans Theater in 1973 as a guest choreographer, and was appointed artistic director in 1978. After joining Nederlands Dans Theater he created and realized over 60 productions for the company, including such works as: Sinfonietta (1978), Forgotten Land (1981), Bella Figura (1995), and Last Touch (2003). In 1995 Mr. Kylián celebrated 20 years as artistic director with Nederlands Dans Theater with the large-scale production Arcimboldo as well as receiving Holland's highest honor, Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau. In 1999 Mr. Kylián retired as artistic director, but still has an active role as resident choreographer and artistic advisor with the company.
Houston Ballet has seven works by Mr. Kylián in its repertoire, including Symphony in D (created in 1977, performed by Houston Ballet in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1994), Sinfonietta (created in 1978, performed by Houston Ballet in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2013), Forgotten Land (created in 1981, performed by Houston Ballet 2005 and 2010), Svadebka (created in 1982, performed by Houston Ballet in 2007), Falling Angels (created in 1989, performed by Houston Ballet in 2009 and 2011), Soldiers' Mass (created in 1980, performed by Houston Ballet in 2009) and Petite Mort (created in 1991, performed by Houston Ballet in 2007).
Mr. Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated first entered Houston Ballet's repertoire in September 1999. A neoclassical tour-de-force set to electronic techno music by Mr. Forsythe's frequent collaborator, the Dutch composer Thom Willems, the work opens on a bare, black stage with nine dancers (six women and three men) in leotards tearing through a series of fiendishly difficult classical steps with high attitude and haughty disdain. The title of the ballet refers to two golden cherries hanging "in the middle, somewhat elevated" in the Palais Garnier in Paris, where the work premiered in 1987.
"In the middle, somewhat elevated is a theme and variations in the strictest sense. Exploiting the vestiges of academic virtuosity that still signify 'the Classical,' it extends and accelerates these traditional figures of ballet," explains Mr. Forsythe. "By shifting the alignment and emphasis of essentially vertical transitions, the affected enchaînements receive an unexpected force and drive that makes them appear foreign to their origins."
Writing in The New York Times, critic John Rockwell has observed, "The way that Mr. Forsythe takes ballet technique and then twists and contorts and pushes it into seemingly impossible extensions is a marvel."
In a review of Houston Ballet's performance of the work, Emma Manning of Dance Europe wrote, "In the Brown Theater the ballet was rejuvenated – and more brightly lit than I have ever seen it. From the first crash of Thom Willems splintering score, the company danced on hot coals, and when all was finally spent, we were left hankering for more." (November 2007).
Raised in New York and initially trained in Florida with Nolan Dingman and Christa Long, Mr. Forsythe danced with the Joffrey Ballet and later the Stuttgart Ballet, where he was appointed resident choreographer in 1976. Over the next seven years, he created new works for the Stuttgart ensemble and ballet companies in Munich, The Hague, London, Basel, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Paris, New York, and San Francisco. In 1984, he began a 20-year tenure as director of the Ballet Frankfurt. Under his leadership, the Frankfurt Ballet was transformed from a capable regional troupe into one of Europe's foremost dance ensembles.
Mr. Forsythe's ballets have entered the repertoires of the world's leading companies, including the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, the Nederlands Dans Theater, and the Royal Swedish Ballet. In March 2003, he received the prestigious Dance Magazine Award for his contribution to the field of dance. After the closure of the Frankfurt Ballet in 2004, Mr. Forsythe established a new, more independent ensemble, The Forsythe Company.
Houston Ballet has one other work by Mr. Forsythe in its repertoire: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (created in 1996, performed by Houston Ballet 2009).
Balanchine created The Four Temperaments for the opening program of Ballet Society, immediate forerunner of New York City Ballet. The premiere took place on November 20th, 1946, at the Central High School of Needle Trades, New York City. It is one of his earliest experimental works, fusing classical steps with a lean and angular style. The ballet is inspired by the medieval belief that human beings are made up of four different humors that determine a person's temperament. The Four Temperaments is set to the music of Paul Hindemith's Theme with Four Variations (According to the Four Temperaments). The score is made of four movements titled: Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, and Choleric – the four temperaments of medieval medicine.
Thea Singer, dance critic for The Boston Globe noted: "Done right, George Balanchine's choreography etches itself in your mind . . . [The Four Temperaments] is starkly abstract despite the symbolism of its characters; it blows apart classical ballet conventions, with its turned-in knees and thrusting pelvises, its flexed wrists, splayed legs, and lunges ending in metatarsals pushed to the breaking point." (May 8, 2010). Writing for The New York Times on June 21, 2010, Claudia La Rocco described the ballet as a "masterpiece", "fiercely blazing" and "powerful".
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904, George Balanchine is regarded as one of the greatest choreographers in the history of ballet and one of the 20th century's most innovative artists. Balanchine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a principal dancer and choreographer. After moving to the United States in 1933 he became director of ballet for the Metropolitan Opera House and a founder, with Lincoln Kirstein, of the School of American Ballet. In 1946 the two men founded the company that would become the New York City Ballet, and in 1948 Balanchine was named its artistic director and principal choreographer where he served in that capacity until his death in 1983.
Houston Ballet has 16 Balanchine works in its repertory: Agon (created in 1957, performed by Houston Ballet in 1996), Apollo (created in 1928, performed by Houston Ballet in 2004 and 2010), Ballo della Regina (created in 1978, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), Ballet Imperial (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 2013), Concerto Barocco (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1977), The Four Temperaments (created in 1946, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1997, and 2003), Jewels (Diamonds, Rubies, and Emeralds) (created in 1967, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), La Valse (created in 1951, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1996, and 2004), Pas de Dix (created in1955, performed by Houston Ballet in 1969 and 1970), Prodigal Son (created in 1929, performed by Houston Ballet in 1974), Raymonda Variations (created in 1961, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971), Serenade (created in 1934, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2008), Symphony in C (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1992 and 2008), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (created in 1960, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1994), , Theme and Variations (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2004, and 2012), Western Symphony (created in 1954, performed by Houston Ballet in 1986, 1990, 1994, and 2006).