The Mysterious Universe of Jiri Kylian.

Premiere of the ballet "Fallen Angels"

at the "Astana Ballet" Theater on 1-2 April 2022

The long-awaited premiere of Jiri Kylian's ballet “Fallen Angels” took place at the Astana Ballet Theatre in April 2022. One of the most unusual opuses from the cycle of black and white ballets of the famous choreographer was staged in 1989, and since then has been an undoubted bestseller in the dance world. This short ballet, which lasts only 15 minutes, makes a stunning impression. It would be challenging to find another epithet for sharing the perception after viewing the performance. Clear, picking up the rhythm of the drums; graphic figures of dancers divided into even light squares of the tablet scene; a bizarre combination of light and movement - all this holds and does not let go for a moment of attention. The tension grows, the non-stop series of intricate movements of the eight dancers on the stage becomes more and more inventive, not repeating, but as if making a modulation and each time, at a new stage in the development of the dance, passing into a new quality, into another dimension.

The amazing lighting score, created by Dutch lighting designer Joop Kabburt, was reproduced at the Astana Ballet Theatre. Light here plays a shaping role: dense streams of light falling vertically on individual parts of the body snatch out of the darkness the synchronously moving hands and feet of the dancers, and a delightful abstraction appears in the air. It is known that Kylian most often invented costumes and lighting for his performances himself, and then gave the idea to the implementers.

This is not surprising, since the choreographer sees the dancer on the stage as a whole, as an image that appears to him in his imagination and which he then embodies in his ballets. Nothing concrete and definite, no clearly defined realism: “I like this gray area between existence and non-existence, between light and darkness,” Kylian admits in one of his literary essays. "The Twilight Zone, Premonition."

A premonition of love, a premonition of death - these topics have a special niche in the work of the Czech choreographer. He speaks about these two constants of human life and what happens between them in his black and white ballets. Small philosophical performances, which are considered an honor to have in the repertory playbill by world theaters, and which artists of different nationalities dance with rapture. The ballet "Fallen Angels" stands alone in this cycle, which includes six short performances created in different years - "Six Dances" (1986), "No More Play" (1988), "Fallen Angels" (1989), "Sweet Dreams "(1990), "Sarabande" (1990) and everyone's favorite masterpiece "A Little Death" (1991).


All Kylian's ballets are unusually easily perceived by the viewer, despite their philosophical depth, the exhausting work of the director and artists. The choreographers who, with the help of Jiri Kylian, flew out of NTD's native nest into the big world of dance, recall: "Jiri Kylian says that creating one minute of a piece that took a whole day to complete is a job well done!" The choreographer himself believes that theater is the art of reducing rather than adding: “Unfortunately, I start with complex things, and then I start eliminating a lot of what I composed, leaving the simplest. And when that happens, it becomes really beautiful.”


"Beautiful" is the key word in Kylian's work, and it has nothing to do with the banal "beautifulness". At the time of creating the cycle of black and white ballets, the choreographer was strongly influenced by surrealism and minimalism. This black-and-white aesthetics of ballets then passed into his films and photographs, which the 76-year-old choreographer has been enthusiastically doing lately. Black and white appears as a carrier of a universal, timeless or even memorial dimension, the space of his memory.

Like any brilliant creator (and this epithet can be applied to Kylian without any stretch or exaggeration), Jiri Kylian knows how to rally like-minded people around him and charge them with his creative energy. So the entire staging part of the performance (which is very complex, despite the absence of bulky scenery) has been practically brought to life for many years by Just Bigelar, head of the staging part of the Netherlands Dance Theatre. He was satisfied with his work at the Astana Ballet Theatre, as the theater has all the necessary technical and lighting equipment, and the employees are highly professional.

The assistant choreographer Stefan Zeromsky who carried out the transfer of the performance to the Kazakhstani stage worked with high enthusiasm with the troupe "Astana Ballet". As a choreographer and dancer, who worked at the Netherlands Dance Theater for 22 years, he was involved in many performances of the troupe, and  worked a lot with Jiri Kylian on staging new ballets. Stefan especially notes the master's ability to involve artists in the creative process of composing a dance: "He always suggested that the artist do as he feels, based on the personality of the dancer."

Therefore, it is not surprising that the first performers were called during rehearsals by the names of key characters -  Fiona, Suzanne, Lauren, Carolina, etc. This performance, in which 8 characters dressed in black leotards of dancers create incredible beauty on the stage, is a kind of homage to the first performers of these parts. However, the task of assistant choreographer Stefan Zeromsky did not include an exact copy of the images created on the stage of the Dutch theater.

Already at the casting, he selected 8 artists of the Astana Ballet Theater, who, following the choreography, created their characters. It is surprising that at the casting, along with the leading soloists Tatyana Ten, Aizhan Mukatova, very young corps de ballet dancers, recent graduates of the ballet school Kalamkas Orynbasarova, Altynai Zhusupova, Daria Ponamareva and others were selected. It should be noted that all of them perfectly coped with their tasks - both with complex choreography and with an incredible rhythm of the production.

Everyone had difficulties with the rhythm, since the performance was not accompanied by a phonogram, but by the live sound of drums. Four percussionists, the percussion group of the Astana Ballet Symphony Orchestra, led by concertmaster Zhasulan Kabimolla, played the most complex work of the American minimalist Steve Reich "Drumming", while organically matching the tempo and rhythm with the artists on stage.

The task, frankly, is not an easy one, since one of the fathers of modern music, Steve Reich, composed this work not only following African ritual rhythms, but also introducing a slight discrepancy in tempo into the sound of four pairs of small drums called “bongos”. As conceived by the experimental composer, musical rhythms and patterns should be mixed to create a multi-layered effect in some parts. This technique was invented by Reich in the sixties and is successfully used in modern music. For the dancers, such dissonance introduced additional difficulties, but they coped with the task with honor. In the hall, this synergy of musicians and dancers created incredible tension and excitement!

Fallen Angels” is often called a feminist ballet, as some commentators see it as eight women's aspirations for independence and autocracy. Kylian himself often said that this is a performance about artists who strive for excellence in creativity. The theme of the artist, creator, artist, which he developed in many of his ballets (just remember the performance "Zugfogel"), has always excited and still excites the choreographer who has not staged ballets in recent years, but has been trying himself in cinema, photography and other visual and plastic ways of expression.

In “Fallen Angels” the artists remain true to their human nature and are distracted from "pure creativity" by various everyday affairs, such as ambition, rivalry, love, birth, death, motherhood. All this can be read in duets, solos and group scenes performed by dancers. “There is no such linear story, it is not a fairy tale, with a beginning and an end. “Usually Kylian comes up with an idea first, and he just works around this idea”, - Stefan Zeromski talks about the creative process of the choreographer. – “In this ballet, this is the idea of ​​​​a dance that will live, even if all of us are gone. But one can also understand this image of dance as a structure that requires discipline and total dedication from us. But at the same time, nothing human is alien to any artist, because with all our preoccupation with creativity, each of us still remains a person with his own fears, needs for love, etc. And Kylian does a great job of showing that in duets and solos."

But the author leaves the audience and artists the right to their own interpretation of his ballet. Someone sees in the lines of duets the deceit of female nature, someone sees the capriciousness inherent in female nature, and someone sees the duality of the female soul. Some "demonization" of the female image is introduced into this ballet by the odious translation of the title into Russian - "Fallen Angels". “Fallen” is a synonym for “cast down”, expelled from paradise, the image of a “fallen angel” immediately comes to mind.

But in the original, the title of the ballet sounds like “Falling angels”, which can be translated as "Falling Angels", and then this is a process, a fall, a levitation. And this concept is semantic for the choreographer, Kylian has many works associated with it: it is enough to recall one of the latest photo projects “Free Fall”. He writes about this in one of his essays: “I could say that for me life is levitation. It's not about the flight, it's about the symbol."

Soaring in the free flight of creativity, even though sometimes life makes us fall from heaven and hit very hard - this sense of the performance seems much closer to the philosophy and aesthetics of Jiri Kylian. A choreographer who believes in the laws of the universe. These laws argue that large, mass-filled heavenly bodies are able to attract others to themselves and share energy and meaning with them.

Six ballets form a harmonious system of values ​​that the choreographer has built in black and white which is not at all as monochrome as it might seem at first glance. After all, it also contains 40 shades of unknown gray, twilight and mysterious. I would like to hope that other ballets of the author will soon be included in the playbill of the theater in order to present to us, the audience, the whole universe of Jiri Kylian, full of mysteries and meanings.

Author: Flyura Musina, ballet critic.