The Belgian choreographer and stage designer Stijn Celis is one of the most prolific dance-makers of our time. His work is notable for its highly physical, earthy, and often even explosive dance style, but as a choreographer Celis can also be tender, sensual and poetic. His musical choices are equally varied: pop, electronic, ethnic, classical. Despite all this, he is probably best known for his startling interpretations of famous ballet compositions, where he regularly also draws inspiration from literary sources. To give just some examples, in recent years Celis has undertaken new choreographic versions of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, Les Noces and Petrushka, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Prokofiev’s Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet as well as a ballet based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. These are bold choices because so many choreographer have already preceded him with successful interpretations – but Celis has repeatedly succeeded in putting his own individual stamp on these over-familiar works.
Celis (1964) is the son of a Belgian father and a Mauritanian mother, and in his youth he lived for several years in Zaire. After the family returned to Belgium Celis studied at the Royal Ballet School in Antwerp. As a dancer he had engagements at companies that included the Royal Ballet of Flanders, Ballet Zurich, the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève and the Cullberg Ballet. It was at the latter two companies that he also made his first choreographies and as early as 1997 he was asked by Mats Ek – who that year was the main guest at the Holland Festival – to make a creation for this prestigious festival.
In 1998 Celis ended his dance career in order to study stage design at the College for Dramatic Arts in Antwerp, where he graduated cum laude. He worked as an assistant to well-known designers such as Jan Versweyveld (for instance at Het Zuidelijk Toneel for productions by Ivo van Hove) and Benoit Dujardin and he produced stage designs for the choreographer Didy Veldman. Around this time he also began choreographing again, and with great success: in recent years Celis has made work for many internationally renowned companies, including the Portuguese Ballet Gulbenkian, the Spanish IT Dansa, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Swedish Cullberg Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Ballett Mainz, the Aalto Ballett Essen and the Semperoper Ballett in Dresden. He has also collaborated in various opera productions, including operas at the Muntschouwburg in Belgium and the Reisopera in the Netherlands.
From 2004 to 2007 Celis was the artistic director of Ballet Bern in Switzerland. He worked as a freelance choreographer until 2014 when he was appointed artistic director of the ballet company of the Saarländische Staatstheater in the German town of Saarbrücken.
In 2011 Celis made his debut at Introdans with the impressive Noces, which was included in the programme VIER40 that celebrated the company’s fortieth jubilee. In 2014 Introdans performed a world premiere by Celis as part of the RUSSISCH RUMOER programme: Firebird Suite, inspired by the suite from L’Oiseau de Feu.
In December 2023, Introdans will present the family show Swan Lake; Stijn Celis’ fresh, humorous and innovative version of the beloved classic.
Choreographies by Stijn Celis in the Introdans repertoire:
Noces (2011), Firebird Suite (2014, world premiere), Swan Lake (2013)