Behind the scenes of Sechs Tänze with Shirley Esseboom
Our Pre-professional Year students will be performing Sechs Tänze by Jiří Kylián at our Summer Performances this year. They have been working on this piece with Shirley Esseboom, one of Kylián’s ballet masters. Shirley was a dancer with the Nederlands Dans Theater for 16 years and now stages Jiří Kylián’s work worldwide.
The rehearsal process
For three weeks, Shirley came to Upper School to rehearse Sechs Tänze, working closely with our students to pass on her vast knowledge and experience. She told us how she has enjoyed her time in the studios:
What a pleasure to work with the students here. They’re beautiful dancers, and their technique is fantastic. They are all brilliant, and it’s been amazing to be studying this piece with them.
Born in Prague, Jiří Kylián began his professional ballet training at the age of 9 after being inspired by acrobatic performances in the Circus Busch. He trained at the Prague Conservatory before he was offered a scholarship at The Royal Ballet School. Kylián was choreographer for the Stuttgart Ballet until he became Artistic Director of the Nederlands Dans Theatre in 1976. Known for exploring the limitations of the body and capabilities of space, Kylián’s style defines him as an artist. Shirley told us about the uniqueness of Kylián’s artistry:
His musicality is just incredible. Everything in his work is so human; his language is really current. People can relate to his work, even if they aren’t dancers. There’s both beauty and ugliness within his choreography. There’s a sense of realness to the present whilst carrying the past and looking to the future within all his work.
Sechs Tänze was created in 1986 for the Nederlands Dans Theater. Danced to Six German Dances by Mozart, the ballet is structured through six nonsensical acts and draws from Mozart’s life and personality. We talked to Shirley about what influenced Jiří Kylián to create this piece:
Jiri Kylian was inspired by the life of Mozart. He loved his craziness – Mozart was brilliant, but he was also a little bit mad. The ballet is extreme, and there’s a sense of comedy throughout. It’s a unique piece and definitely different from his other work. The base is classical, but it has a lot of mimics and theatre within it. It’s a fast ballet and there’s a lot going on.
An eccentric ballet
The ballet is a comedic piece containing physical humour and athletic movement. It is set inside a courtly world with powdered wigs and eighteenth-century costumes worn by dancers. Due to the individuality of the piece, it can be challenging, and Shirley talked to us about the obstacles that the students have faced:
This ballet has a lot of tricky classical style, but it has to be performed in a totally silly way. They have to make crazy faces. Some students are immediately comfortable, but others are more self-conscious and reserved. It’s a lot of fun bringing out their personalities and overcoming the idea that they must always be beautiful. It can be a challenge for them but it’s good for them to try something different and really go for it.
We can’t wait to see Sechs Tänze on the stage and are grateful to Shirley for sharing her brilliant insights with us.
The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Performances are sponsored by Kinoshita Group and are funded by the support of generous individual donors.