London — Royal Ballet offers 'Return to a Strange Land' Czech-born Jiri Kylian has become one of the most sought-after choreographers on the ballet scene today, with his works being performed in Europe, America, and Australia.
Now, for the first time, one of his ballets, ''Return to a Strange Land,'' has been added to the repertoire of a British company - the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.
Originally performed by the Stuttgart Ballet in 1975 as a tribute to that company's brilliant mentor and director, John Cranko, it received a standing ovation at its New York presentation in 1981.
The result on the Royal Opera House stage has been exciting and interesting. Kylian makes great demands on his dancers, but in return provides them with a banquet of rousing, innovative movement. His ballerinas must be lithe, swift, and fearless, throwing themselves at their strong, athletic partners.
Above all, the dancers must be tireless, for his choreography is a study in perpetual movement - of fast running across
wide open space, sudden turns, changing directions, of lifting, falling, twirling, and of graceful, smoothly executed body contortions.
It's a style that fits the young British dancer well.
In ''Return to a Strange Land,'' the six dancers - two women and four men - adapted easily to the Kylian mold, moving with boundless energy, forming the intricate geometric shapes required, and showing control and confidence in the more acrobatic poses. Yet they brought a lightness and fluidity to the stage that Kylian's own company - the Netherlands Dance Theatre - is noted for today.
The two women - Malaysian-born Ravenna Tucker, with outpouring grace and exactness, and reliable and poised Fiona Chadwick - were draped, propelled, and borne aloft by their very able partners.
The stage was beautifully lit by Jennifer Tipton (of the Joffrey Ballet), emphasizing the contours of the brown and blue figures against a flat backdrop.
Kylian's conception for this ballet came at a time when the Stuttgart Company , mourning the untimely death of Cranko, was unsure about its future. Kylian first created the ballet with only a pas de trois, but later extended it to its present length.
He writes, ''the title 'Return to a Strange Land' conveys the step from one form of existence into another. . . . To die is to return into the other land: the strange land of one's origin.''
One needs to see the ballet more than once to pick up all the nuances of his thoughts, but the anguish, the struggles of coping with new experiences, is conveyed in the movement.
Jiri Kylian is a tall, gentle, pensive man born in Prague in 1947. Like all other Czech schoolchildren, he was given a musicality test at the the age of six to search for talent. Later came admission to the Prague Conservatory to study dance and other arts.
In 1967 he received a British Council scholarship and came to the Royal Ballet School to study for a year, performing the role of Albrecht in Act II of ''Giselle'' at the 1968 school performance. While in London he met John Cranko and was invited to join the Stuttgart Ballet as a dancer. Encouraged by Cranko, he began seriously to choreograph.
Kylian's reputation grew, and in 1973 he received an invitation to create a work for the Netherlands Dance Theatre. That led eventually to his becoming its artistic director, bringing the company international recognition by producing a prodigious quantity of ballets with varying styles, often with overtones of his Czech heritage. He has created 25 ballets for the company so far.
The introduction of this ballet into the Royal Ballet program comes after long negotiations between Kylian and the Royal Opera House.
Along with the ballet's success comes the news that Kylian's Netherlands Dance Theatre will be appearing at Covent Garden in July 1985.