Jiří Kylián
Photo: Anton Corbijn

‘Dancers are continually defying gravity’

8 March 2023

Interview with choreographer Jiří Kylián

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen

At the beginning of 2024, Dutch National Ballet is dancing its first ever ballet by Jiří Kylián, the master choreographer who defined the identity of Nederlands Dans Theater for over thirty years. Wings of Wax is one of the most internationally sought-after works in Kylián’s oeuvre, and is acclaimed by critics for its complexity and inventiveness: ‘It is captivating from start to finish’.

It was written in the stars that this would happen one day, says Jiří Kylián jokingly. “Years ago, Nederlands Dans Theater danced Wings of Wax in The Amsterdam Music Theatre (now Dutch National Opera & Ballet). I was watching from the wings, next to some dancers from Dutch National Ballet, and I heard one of them say, ‘Actually, we should dance this work’.” And now that’s come about, and Kylián is really looking forward to it. “In my time as artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, it wasn’t possible. I thought it was important for the two biggest dance companies of the Netherlands to each have their own identity. But now that Nederlands Dans Theater is going in a new direction, under Emily Molnar, that objection no longer stands. Who knows, maybe Wings of Wax will be the first step towards a more intensive collaboration between Dutch National Ballet and myself.”

Rising above everyday monotony

Kylián created Wings of Wax in 1997 for eight dancers of NDT 1, set to an exciting music collage, with one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations as the impressive ‘finale’. The starting point for the ballet was the realisation that classically trained dancers are continually defying gravity. “They jump and turn, the men lift the women above their head, and the women balance on pointe. For a layman, it’s probably absurd and totally unreal, but for dancers – and for those who admire them – it’s a way of rising above everyday monotony.” In a spiritual sense, says Kylián, you could even say that we’re all engaged in a constant battle with gravity. “We try to steer clear of the heavy thoughts that drag us down. We associate everything that’s up above, in the heavens, with light and positivity, and everything that’s underground seems to be related to hell and damnation.”

‘The greatest beauty may be concealed within darkness’


Fascinating game of appearing and disappearing

But what if that were to be turned the other way round? That’s how Kylián got the idea for the wonderful scenery with a tree hanging upside down, below which – or above which, depending on your viewpoint – the dancers fly around, as it were, in a fascinating game of appearing and disappearing. “Because what is above and what is below?”, says Kylián. “It’s the roots of the tree that do the work, and without them no branches, leaves and blossom would grow. So the inside, or what you don’t see, is in fact more important than what you do see. In other words, the greatest beauty may be concealed within darkness.”


Extreme musicality

The ‘fantastic dancers’ of Dutch National Ballet, as Kylián calls them, will have no problem with the technical performance of Wings of Wax. “What’s important is that they take ownership of the piece and express their own personality in it, so that you see eight unique individuals.” The ballet also requires extreme musicality. “It needs great precision. You can’t be one second too early, but nor can you be one beat too late. Well, you can be almost too late, but not quite. Like in jazz music, it has to be exactly in the groove.”


Icarus' Wings of Wax

Kylián’s title Wings of Wax refers to the well-known myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with his wings of wax, causing them to melt, and plunging Icarus into the sea. “It’s a metaphor for the boundless ambition of mankind, who always wants to reach yet higher and achieve still more.”

  • Season 2023-2024
    Wings of Wax by Jiří Kylián can be seen at Dutch National Opera & Ballet in the Dancing Dutch programme from 30 March to 14 April 2024.

    Info & tickets