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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001

Kylian's stage is set for a sensational premiere

Special to The Japan Times

The contemporary dance scene has, over the past two decades, pursued a voracious quest for new direction that has yielded constant and often thrilling progress.

A scene from Jiri Kylian's "Birth-Day"

Because of its lack of words, dance has enjoyed an enormous advantage over drama in its pursuit of creative internationalization. Collaboration between those of different nationalities has produced truly borderless productions.

Pushing the frontiers of contemporary drama for more than 30 years has been Czech-born Jiri Kylian. Now, as part of a project at the "Sai-no-Kuni Kylian" (Saitama Arts Center Kylian), a 30-minute train ride north of Ikebukuro, this Royal Ballet-trained former leading dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet brings not one but two world-premiere productions to his many Japanese fans.

Running from January 2000 to fall 2004, Sai-no-Kuni Kylian aims to introduce Japan to a series of top-class contemporary dance programs by the Nederlands Dans Theater. Kylian was the Arts Director at this Den Haag-based company from 1973, becoming its Artistic Adviser in August 1999. NDT is divided into three different troupes according to the dancers' ages: NDT I for those aged 22-40; NDT II for those aged 17-22; and NDT III -- the troupe visiting Japan this time -- for dancers aged 40 or over.

The mixed program last weekend was made up of short pieces by four different choreographers, while this coming weekend, audiences will be able to see the world premiere of "Blackbird," a collaboration between 54-year-old Kylian and Megumi Nakamura.

This 31-year-old dancer from Yokohama was, for a decade, a lead dancer at NDT II and I, and is now a Den Haag-based freelancer whose work includes many self-choreographed pieces. Nakamura took a break from her schedule to talk to The Japan Times about her work.

"It was not so difficult to join a foreign dance company and work with them in Holland," she recalled. "In the dance world, language is not a big problem as dancers communicate well without words, so I have never felt any isolation at work. Perhaps this is also because the Dutch are very tolerant of foreigners and usually speak several languages -- Dutch, German, French, English.

"From the first time Kylian and I worked together at NDT, we began exploring my inner desires, those springing from my Japanese background. 'Blackbird' lets me express myself completely on stage. On the other hand, I feel apprehensive about performing so nakedly -- literally so, as I wear just a body-stocking, but also emotionally."

Speaking after his breathtaking new work "Birth-Day" received a standing ovation and four curtain calls at Saitama last weekend, Kylian responded to Nakamura's comments, saying, "Japanese people are no less passionate than Europeans; it's just that their way of expression is probably different, as audiences will see in 'Blackbird.' "

"Blackbird" sees Kylian collaborating not just with Nakamura, but also (and for the third time) with celebrated fashion designer Yoshiki Hishinuma, who is costuming the production. In return, last March, Kylian directed Hishinuma's 2001 Autumn-Winter Collection in Paris, using many of his regular dancers, including Nakamura.

Such cross-media relationships, and his constant drive to extend the boundaries of the performing arts, have long kept Kylian at the cutting edge of the stage world. Although he is known as a dance choreographer, to see "Birth-day" is to become clearly and delightedly aware that his imagination has flown from any generic pigeonhole.

What occurs on stage could equally well be called contemporary dance, a short play, or even "image-art." "Performing art" is the only label that even comes close.

In "Birth-Day," characters dressed a la Versailles sit onstage at a long, ornate table, fluttering feather fans and pretending to be very upper crust. What they are actually trying to do, Kylian shows us, is hide their real intentions toward each other. These intentions are revealed in their full glorious earthiness as the five players, singly or in pairs, sneak offstage, only to appear, as if in real time, in a film projected onto a huge screen at the back of the stage. We watch them romping, playing, having pillow fights or sexually fantasising before returning to the table on stage and their prim public personae.

NDT III, with its older, experienced dancers, was the natural choice for "Birth-day" with its all-too-human tragicomedy. And these seasoned players also performed well in the first program on the four-part bill, "Windage," which raunchily expressed an ageing couple's nostalgia for their youthful days of passion.

"Windage" is choreographed by Shusaku Takeuchi, who was born in Kyushu in 1948 and studied many arts genres in Japan, such as painting, sculpture, graphic arts and interior design before moving to Europe. Lately, he has been doing experimental work using computer technology.

Here, the stage is full of delicate beauty, with transparent curtains waving across the floor, an Andy Warhol-style, tropical-flower print background, and the dancers' thin lacy costumes.

With these innovative shows as a prelude, the stage is set for something remarkable to occur at this weekend's "Blackbird," a fusion of East and West in the coming together of two such outstanding artists.

"Blackbird" is at Saitama Arts Center, a 5-min. walk from Yono Honmachi Station on the Saikyo Line, 30 min. from Ikebukuro. Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. and Oct. 7 at 3 p.m. Call(048)-858-5511 or fax(048)-858-5515. Tickets 5,000 yen.

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