Sylvie Guillem – 6000 miles away


I went to see Sylvie Guillem at Sadlers Wells last night. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years now, and after last year’s Eonnagata  left me in tears, it was with huge expectation that I sat down in the theatre. I wasn’t disappointed.

Rehearsal pictures, courtesy of Sadlers Wells

The first piece, Rearray, choreographed by William Forsythe, was set to a bare, stripped back composition by David Morrow. Fascinating and challenging, it explores the relationship between contemporary and classical ballet, subverting the latter tradition by corrupting the steps, making them stutter and falter at one moment, switching the balance between legs and arms, sudden shifts of pace and direction – at times moving so fast that arms were just blurs of perfect movement – and fades to black. Guillem is partnered by Nicolas Le Riche, and after the first sequence I was anxious – he didn’t look a strong enough dancer to complement her – she was amazing, powerful but with a fluid grace that made her precision look effortless. But as the piece progressed, his presence grew – never overshadowing her, but providing the perfect foil for the questions asked within the piece, and his solos were wonderful. I have to say that my mum didn’t like this piece – she didn’t feel a connection, and at the end said she was disappointed, that she felt is was just posturing – beautifully danced, but still just posturing, without any deeper meaning. I disagree – for me, there was a relationship between Guillem and Le Riche that resonated – the choreography translated into a relationship between two people under review, under discussion, with all the old standards, codes and norms up for renegotiation, backed up by the stilted nature of the piece – it stopped, it started, it returned and revisited, like a conversation between two people trying to understand how and why their relationship has changed, and even if there is a relationship any more – moments of anger, or blocking – like the little sequence where she blocks and ducks every attempt he makes to hold her particularly struck me. Maybe not a piece that had a hard-hitting emotional impact – it was too subtle for that, but it was a clever, thought-provoking, almost intellectual exploration that was a pleasure to watch.

The second piece, Kylian’s 2002 piece for Nederlands Dans Theater 27’52” set to a new composition, was danced by Aurelie Cayla & Kenta Kojiri. When I saw this in the programme, I was disappointed – it was billed as an evening with Sylvie Guillem, but that disappointment soon faded. This was a stunning piece, that picked up where Rearray left off, exploring the dynamics of a relationship – maybe – a questioning of how the desires of one person can override the rights of another, in a connection that was ambiguous from the start – was it a relationship, or was it two strangers? I’m not sure. At the start, Cayla is strong and dynamic, her power reinforced by the strong shadow she cast, that dominated Kojiri’s smaller presence and diminished shadow. But as the piece progressed, he dominated her more and more, reducing her movements to tiny, frantic, almost OCD hand movements restricted and confined, building up to two huge physical jolts that threw her across the stage. And from then on, the boundaries between desire and consent became more and more blurred as the balance of power shifted from her to him. Sinister and disturbing in equal measures, but still with that intense level of precision and control, it was spellbinding.

But the prize for the evening has to go to the concluding piece, ‘Bye’, choreographed by Mats Ek and set to Beethovens piano sonata no 32 (op 111). Guillem dances solo, on a stage bare except for a door-like screen. From the opening, when we see Guillem peering through the screen in extreme close-up, watching us watching her, it was wonderful. A middle-aged woman escaping through a magical door, way into a space of her own, where she can be herself, free of the scrutiny and demands of family and friends, kicking of restricting shoes and socks and dowdy cardigan and expressing herself … but not taking herself too seriously – the precision, strength and eloquence of the dancing bringing order out of what could be chaos, and optimism where there could be regret that the demands of life so trammel self-expression. It was how my head wishes my body would move when I’m dancing in my living room, away from everyone’s scrutiny (and no, I’m not so delusional that I even begin to think I come anywhere close to Guillem) – it felt spontaneous and free, with moments of classical purity interspersed with more contemporary tyle linking steps. The music and choreography perfectly complemented each other – it amazed me how fresh and modern a piece of music that must be almost 200 years old sounded in this context. But it is, nonetheless, poignant and painful when the screen fills with people, and Guillem is called out of the space she owns, where she is alive and vibrant and colourful, to the black-and-white ordinariness of life outside that space, setting herself aside.

I do hope that ‘Bye’ doesn’t become a farewell piece … I’m hoping to be able to carry on watching this amazing dancer for a few more years yet.


One Response to “Sylvie Guillem – 6000 miles away”

  1. 1 Princess Kim R.

    Wow! This is the best review I’ve seen yet! It really gives me a sense of what it was like to watch the legendary Mademoiselle Guillem and her art. Thank you!

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