Born in Prague, Jiří Kylián studied at the city's Conservatory and London's Royal Ballet School before joining the Stuttgart Ballet (Germany) under John Cranko in 1968.
In 1973 he was invited by Nederlands Dans Theater in Den Haag / NL as a guest choreographer. Here he made a successful debut with Viewers - the first of more than 60 choreographies he was to develop specifically for Nederlands Dans Theater. Viewers was followed by Stoolgame (1974), La cathédrale engloutie (1975) and Return to a Strange Land (1975). In 1975, he left the Stuttgart Ballet for good to work exclusively for Nederlands Dans Theater.
Appointed the company's Artistic Co-Director in 1975, Jiří Kylián achieved his international breakthrough with Sinfonietta in 1978, set to music composed by his compatriot Leoš Janáček. In the same year he was appointed Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater. His international reputation kept growing with such works as Symphony of Psalms (1978), Forgotten Land (1981), Svadebka (1982), Stamping Ground (1983) and L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (1984).
During the second half of the eighties Kylián's artistic view turned away from lyrical works to abstract and often surrealistic ballets, as evinced in No More Play (1988), Falling Angels (1989), Sweet Dreams (1990), Sarabande (1990) and Petite Mort (1991) - a tendency, which maintained throughout the past decade.
Recent works of Kylián include: Bella Figura (1995), Wings of Wax (1997), One of a Kind (1998), Half Past (1999), Click-pause-Silence (2000), Claude Pascal (2002), Last Touch (2003) and Toss of a Dice (2005) for Nederlands Dans Theater I; Indigo Rose (1998), 27'52" (2002) and Sleepless (2004) for Nederlands Dans Theater II; Tears of Laughter (1996), A Way A Lone (1998), Birth-day (2001), When Time Takes Time (2002) and Far too Close (2003) for Nederlands Dans Theater III. He created Doux Mensonges (1999) and Il faut qu'une porte (2004) for the Paris Opera and Blackbird (2001) for the Holland Dance Festival/Saitama Japan.
Apart from developing choreographic works, Kylián has also built up a unique organizational structure for and within Nederlands Dans Theater, adding two new dimensions to the Dutch ballet company. The world-famous Nederlands Dans Theater I has been expanded by Nederlands Dans Theater II (company of 16 dancers between the age of 17 and 22) and Nederlands Dans Theater III (dancers/performers beyond the age of 40) - each company with a distinctively individual repertoire.
In April 1995, Jiří Kylián celebrated 20 years directing Nederlands Dans Theater by mounting the large-scale dance production Arcimboldo, which involved all the dancers of Nederlands Dans Theater I, NDT II and NDT III. On that occasion, he received one of the Netherlands' highest honors, becoming Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau.
In addition to public decorations Kylián and ‘his company' have collected numerous awards world-wide, of which the various ‘Angel'-s of the Edinburgh Festival (1996/1997/'Arch-Angel' in 2000), the ‘Sir Laurence Olivier Award' (London, February 2000), and the ‘Nijinsky Award' (Monte-Carlo, December 2000) - the latter in 3 categories: choreographer, work, and company - deserve special mentioning. During the Gala of Dutch Dance (Oct. '06) Kylián received a ‘special appreciation' award: the Jiří Kylián ring.
As from August 1999 Jiří Kylián retired from the position of the Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater. However, with respect to the future development of the company, he maintains the essential role as a resident choreographer.