After becoming fascinated by the circus at a very young age, Jiří Kylián was interested in acrobatics, leading to him joining the Prague National Theater School at the age of 9. Six years later he would be admitted to the Conservatory of the city and in 1967 he obtained a scholarship for the Royal Ballet School in London. Here, he meets a key figure, the choreographer John Cranko, who engages him in the ballet of Stuttgart.
He left Germany in 1975 to become co-artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) in The Hague. In 1978, after the success of his ballet Sinfonietta – accompanied by the music of his compatriot, composer Leoš Janáček – at the Festival des Deux Mondes in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), he is subsequently appointed artistic director of the NDT. His Symphony of Psalms, the second major work of this period, will mark the company’s prominence and establish his international reputation.
By the mid-1980s his style had become more abstract, as evidenced by the ballets of the series Black and White. His meeting with the Australian Aboriginals influenced his views on dance, a cornerstone of social structure and a key component of the artistic heritage of humanity.
For the 35th anniversary of NDT he created Arcimboldo in 1994, a ballet uniting the three NDT companies, a unique structure that embraced all phases of a dancer’s career, from 17 to 70 years old. Jiří Kylián retired in 1999 as artistic director of NDT, but remained as resident choreographer of the ensemble until 2009.
Since the early seventies, he created nearly one hundred ballets, three quarters of which for the Nederlands Dans Theater. He is the holder of many awards, including the Nijinsky Prize, awarded in Monte Carlo, and the French Legion of Honor. In 2006, he co-directed a film, Car-Men, choreographed and filmed in the desolate landscape of an open-pit coal mine in the Czech Republic. He has since created 3 more films and a photo installation.