Return to a Strange Land

Choreographer: Jiri Kylian

Music: Leos Janacek

World Premiere: Stuttgart Ballet, May 17, 1975

PBT Performance Date: March 1996


Program Notes (March 1996)
By Carol Meeder, Director of Arts Education

Return to a Strange Land was created under the impact of the sudden death of choreographer John Cranko, longtime friend and mentor of the ballet’s creator, Jirí Kylián. While the ballet has no story, it mingles themes of passing and reappearance, death and rebirth, with an impression of longing that remains with the audience long after the curtain goes down.  It is a theme that is familiar to Jirí Kylián.  He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1947, but as a young man exiled himself from his homeland in a search for artistic freedom.

Kylián started his dance training when he was nine years old at the ballet school of the Prague National Theatre.  In 1967 Kylián went to the Royal Ballet School in London and there came into contact with the most important developments in choreography – ballet as well as contemporary dance.  Consequently, John Cranko, a major choreographer of this period and director of the Stuttgart Ballet, offered him a contract and encouraged Kylián’s ambition to create his own dance works.  Kylián began to choreograph in 1970 and in 1975 left Stuttgart Ballet to become Nederlands Dans Theater’s full-time resident choreographer and co-Artistic Director.  He served as Artistic Director from 1978 to 1999 and is credited with the significant boost in that company’s international reputation. 

Kylián has created over 48 ballets – a short list of his masterworks includes Symphony in D, Sinfonietta, Symphony of Psalms, and Transfigured Night.  He is considered one of the most ingenious choreographers of his generation, blending elements from various sources into a unique and very personal style.  Kylián strives to make accessible, unpretentious choreography, by finding common denominators, or “things everyone has been through” upon which to base his works.

Return to a Strange Land is set to “On an Overgrown Path” and “In the Mist” from LeoÅ¡ Janácek’s Sonata 1905.  Also from Czechoslovakia, Janácek, who lived from 1854 to 1928, was fascinated with the folk music and songs of his native land.  He traveled to different regions of the country, diligently collecting traditional music, and incorporated their folk rhythms and styles into his own compositions.  The understated piano works that make up the score of Return to a Strange Land draw upon Moravian folk dance music, and this folk aspect fuses with the haunting, longing quality of the ballet.  This relationship between the music and the choreography is very important to Kylián, who explains, “I go very far out of my way to find out why a composer has written each note and each configuration – and to find a visual equivalent.”

The world premiere of Return to a Strange Land was on May 17, 1975 at the Stuttgart Ballet, with the revised version opening on March 1, 1984 at the Nederlands Dans Theater.