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The Art of Questioning – Jiri Kylian

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2008 – 4:32 PM Comments


Jiri Kylian by Victoria Krassa for Movmnt

Jiri Kylian by Victoria Krassa for Movmnt


While in Montreal presenting a documentary about his career, choreographer Jiri Kylian sat down with David Benaym to share the process, the discovery, and the rewards of creating and presenting new works to the world from a seasoned perspective.

Do you ever prepare movement on yourself before coming to the studio, or do you do it all with the dancers?

When I was very little, twelve or thirteen, I used to go home, lock myself in the room, put on music, and improvise until I fell on the floor exhausted. That’s how it all started. Later, because of insecurity and lack of experience, you try to prepare yourself thoroughly. You don’t want to be exposed. Illustration: Victoria A. Krassa interview But as you get older, there is more to fall back on. As I get older, I prepare myself physically much less as far as vocabulary and steps are concerned because I want to give the creation a chance.

After so many years of creating, when do you get excited in the process?

It varies. If you have a daunting task like making a full evening piece, it is terrifying before it gets exciting. And I always question myself. Do I have something to say for one and a half hours? Can I keep the interest of the audience? Then I become modest and timid and I get afraid that I don’t live up to my own expectations. That’s the sickness of people around fifty because your choices are so much sharper and limited. Your self-reflection is much greater and your possibilities are likewise fewer. I am happy that I have so much support from the people around me. That is phenomenal. I should not complain about this at all.

What is the most exciting moment of the process? How important is the applause to you?

It is not an easy thing to say because we all like applause. In a way, stage presentation is about appreciation. You give something to the public and you want to get appreciation in return. We make our work not for ourselves but for the public. Of course, at first you don’t make any compromises to the public, but you take some of it into the creation process. Many of my colleagues don’t work like that. They think, I don’t care about the public. I make what I like. I don’t agree with this arrogant state of mind. For me, the most important moment is the moment of discovery. You work in the studio with the people you feel good about and suddenly there is a movement, the wink of an eye, a touch that is discovered. This is good, this is the beginning, from here we can go on. This enriches the human soul. These moments are the most important of all. These are the moments I live for. There will be people that like my pieces and are touched by them, and there will be people that don’t see anything in them. I don’t mind if people don’t understand my work because, actually, I don’t understand it myself and I never did. You know, sometimes I see myself as an instrument. I don’t know where things are coming from. Not that I find myself a medium, but I have often had the experience of being quite surprised by the result of my work. That is so exciting! Maybe many of my later works are full of questions more than answers, but I find it extremely exciting to be able to come nearer to the question to which I am pretty sure there are no answers. But just to be able to ask the questions I find very exciting.

Interview by David Benaym

First published in movmnt magazine “Army of Me” Winter 2006 issue