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Jiří Kylián’s Car Men - a film by Jiří Kylián and Boris Paval Conen
Hans OTTEN/Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Car Men [26.39] (from Carmen (1875))
Choreography by Jiří Kylián, directed by Boris Paval Conen
Sabine Kupferberg, Gioconda Barbuto, David Krügel, Karel Hruška (dancers), Produced by Marie Kucerová and Lukáš Šenk for Czech television, Michiel Hobbelink for NPS, filmed on location at a Czech coal mine close to the German border in 2006
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Silent Cries [12.05] from (Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894), La Cathédrale engloutie (1910))
Sabine Kupferberg (dancer)
Choreography by Jiří Kylián, directed by Hans Hulscher, set design by Jiří Kylián
Concertgebouworkest/Bernard Haitink
Nederlands Dans Theater
NOS production in association with RM Arts rec. 1987
La Cathédrale engloutie [21.54]
Jeanne Solan, Karen Tims, Nils Christe, Eric McCullough (dancers)
Choreography by Jiří Kylián, directed by Hans Hulscher, set design by Jiří Kylián
Nico de Rooy (piano)
Nederlands Dans Theater
NOS production in association with RM Arts rec. 1983
Picture format: DVD 9/NTSC/Black and White and Colour/16:9/4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Menu language: English
Notes in English, Dutch and German
ARTHAUS 102101 [61:00]
Experience Classicsonline

This is another ArtHaus DVD dedicated to choreographer Jiří Kylián (b. 1947) and his extensive work with the Nederlands Dans Theater. I truly appreciate Kylián’s creations and some of his choreographies are among my favourites. He is original and innovative, always questioning and challenging, at times nearly shocking, in his search for new dance values. The DVD contains a film he made in 2006, in collaboration with Dutch writer/director Boris Paval Conen, entitled Car Men, and two ballets.
Car Men derives its name from Bizet’s famous opera Carmen and in the same way as in Bizet’s work, the central character is a woman, the eternal temptress but also a tragic figure. The story runs along the same lines as the well known plot of the opera, only here we are not dealing with smugglers, soldiers and bullfighters but with four ordinary people: the four basic characters of Bizet’s opera: Carmen, Don José, Escamillo and Micaëla who have something to do with cars, which is why the title of the film is Car Men. However, Kylián distances himself from the traditional story, depicting surreal relationships of love and hatred, set in a disused coal mine. Why these people are there and do what they do is never quite clear. Kylián pictures the fight for strength and supremacy between Carmen and the other three characters in a succession of burlesque scenes that culminate in a car race in cars made from abandoned scrap. The film is entirely in black and white and done in the style and rhythm of a Laurel and Hardy silent, with a cartoon-like quality in some of the scenes, as for example when Carmen is flattened by a strange vehicle made of the various bits of scrap metal. When one thinks she is dead, she gets up, leaving a perfect mark of her body on the ground, and runs down the road. In speeding up part of the film, in rejecting colour and creating a silent piece, Kylián reveals a certain nostalgia for a long gone era at the birth of cinema. He makes good use of the mimic powers and expressive gestures of his dancers, the older members of NDT III, all well over the usual age for dancers, as they are all clearly middle-aged. Kylián returns here to his eternal theme of the confrontation between human beings whose lives are somehow bound up together, and combines it with another of his favourite topics, the passage of time, as a secondary theme. Personally, I do not think he achieved what he set out to do and I fail to see this film as a dance-piece. The gestures of the protagonists and their facial expressions are very effective and well set to the score of the film but their significance does not always come across. The music is a collage of Bizet’s opera Carmen, heavily fragmented, often speeded up and mixed with other sounds, which one cannot always identify. Carmen’s Seguidilla, Escamillo’s opening area, Toreador, and the bullfighter’s march are just about recognisable but I have to say that while watching it, I longed for the real music and for a slightly more traditional approach to dance. It brought to mind Matthew Bourne’s take on Bizet’s opera, The Car Man, which I personally found also innovative but not so extreme and more satisfying from a music and dance perspective.
Car Men is not Jiří Kylián’s sole experiment with the style of silent movies. In 2001, he created Birth-day, also for the older dancers in the company, set to the music of Mozart and although it is difficult to look at the piece as ballet – again it is more a silent movie but this time in colour – it is an effective, perfectly timed piece, simultaneously tragic, amusing and humorous, which brings a similar message across but to my mind in a more gratifying manner.
The other two pieces on this DVD are the short ballets: Silent Cries set to Debussy’s music Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and La Cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) again set to Debussy’s music of the same name. These two pieces, in particular the second, are Jiří Kylián at his best.
The choreography to Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune bears no similarity to the one by Nijinsky, which caused a scandal in its time. Kylián created the piece in 1986 for his wife, dancer Sabine Kupferberg, as way of expressing her beauty, her weaknesses and her doubts to quote the choreographer’s own words. Kupferberg was at the height of her powers and wonderfully expresses the theme of the piece: what is going on inside an individual when he or she looks into his or her soul; are people able to accept themselves for what they truly are when they have the courage of completing such a profound, intimate analysis of their personality. Kupferberg’s interpretation of Kylián’s choreography is moving and deeply felt. He meant it as a tribute to her and she undoubtedly does full justice to his creation. The choice of Debussy’s music Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was inspired, as his use of flutes and harp enhances the introspective quality of Kylián’s dance language.
The final ballet La Cathédrale engloutie, is a quartet for two pairs dominated by the sound of waves. The original music is a prelude composed by Debussy in 1910, inspired by the ancient Breton legend of the submerged cathedral of the village of Ys, which sank under the waves during one stormy night, as punishment for its sinful population. The choreography of this piece is one of Kylián’s finest. The dancers swirl in a seamless connection with the music, sliding to the ground, only to rise again, in liquid, fluid movements that appear to be an extension of the waves we hear and the images of water in the background. The pairs collide, rotate and slowly swell, with grace and elegance, as sea waves, rolling to the beach and spreading harmoniously over the sand. It is a piece of great beauty and originality, combining the delicate basis of classical ballet with the emotive, powerful expression of modern dance. The sounds of the waves are very effective, evocative and at the same time peaceful but sadly Debussy’s music is not fully used. We hear the waves throughout, occasionally broken by some chords of the composer’s original prelude on the piano but the piece is not performed in its entirety.
These two ballets, however, are excellent and representative of Kylián’s earlier choreographic ideas that to my mind are still his best, and more than made up for the disappointment I felt after watching the film Car Men.
Margarida Mota-Bull


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