November  Steps

The Japanese culture interested me ever since I came across 
the music of Toru Takemitsu. His music, although it was 
written 9.423 kilometers away from where I was, it felt 
very close to my heart. It spoke to me in a language which I 
understood in a clarity I never heard before. The first time 
I have used his music (“Ring” and “Valeria”) was for one of 
my early choreographic efforts in 1972. The piece was called 
“Der Stumme Orfeus” in English “The Voiceless Orpheus”.
The idea was good - the choreography not..!

Later I was introduced to Takemitsu’s masterpice “November 
Steps”. It is written for a european style orchestra and two 
Japanese traditional instruments: Biwa and Shakuhachi.
In our talks, Toru Takemitsu made me understand that all his 
attempts to merge the European and the Japanese styles of 
music was simply impossible - no matter how hard he tried... 
It was premiered in New York in 1967, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. 
The instrumentalists were: Kinshi Tsuruta - Biwa and Katsuya 
Yokoyama - Shakuhachi. It resulted in a composition which 
started with an orchestral section, followed by a “cadenza” 
of the two instrumentalists, which gave them much space for 
improvisation, followed by the final orchestral section.
10 years after its very successful premiere I gave Takemitsu’s 
music a physical shape. My way of approaching the music was 
mostly intuitive. The shear conviction and beauty of the 
composition, and the extremely passionate improvisation of 
the two soloists, influenced every building stone of my 
choreography...
It resulted in perhaps my most abstract choreography to date. 
But although it might be perceived as such, it was created 
with much passion which ultimately gave the “abstraction” a 
human face. I am unable now to retrace all the emotions which 
went through our hearts and brains while we have created 
“November Steps”, but surely this experience left many 
emotional tattoos on all of us...

	

When we showed “November Steps” at the Metropolitan Opera 
House for the first time, the original soloists of the world 
premiere, Mme. Tsuruta and Mr. Yokoyama accompanied us. 
This was of course a great privilege for us, but also a substantial 
worry. The main problem lied in the fact, that I didn’t take into 
account that these incredible artists were given the liberty of 
improvisation and that the improvisations on the recording which 
I have used for my choreography was at least 12 years old...
Needless to say: the first rehearsal with the dancers and these 
wonderful musicians, was a disaster. After this experience, 
Mme. Tsuruta and Mr. Yokoyama,(who in the meantime were 
promoted to “National Treasures” in Japan), went to their 
hotel rooms and practiced their improvisations so that they 
would sound the way they sounded at the premiere 12 years ago. 
We have accepted their effort with thanks and gratitude. 

The premiere was very successful. This remarkable presentation 
of “November Steps” at the Metropolitan Opera House had only 
one flaw! I have asked the two Japanese musicians to take bow 
with all the dancers at the end of the performance. They were 
dressed in beautiful black kimonos and wore the traditional 
japanese footwear, which we might call “thongs”. The only problem 
is that these “thongs” were made for walking forwards only and 
not for walking backwards. But whenever we take bows on stage 
we walk forward as well as backward. And it was precisely this 
walk backwards which caused a very unfortunate embarrassment 
to Mme. Tsuruta, but also great amusement to a filled auditorium 
of the MET. 
As Mme. Tsuruta walked backwards from the “footlights” of the 
stage, she lost control of her footwear, and to her horror she 
was pulled back by the row of dancers, who held her hands, only 
wearing her socks, while her “thongs” stayed lying on the white 
stage totally footless and abandoned...
The audience roared with laughter, and we were all relieved 
that such very important and strenuous undertaking finished 
with such a wonderful joke...

Jiří Kylián, December 4th, 2012