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Jo Tomalin

Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress

By August 9, 2015August 11th, 2015No Comments

Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress
Edinburgh International Festival 2015
A Sadler’s Wells Production, co-produced with Les Nuits de Fourvière and Sylvie Guillem
Sat 8 – Mon 10 Aug 7.30pm
Festival Theatre

Review by Jo Tomalin


Sylvie Guillem’s final tour as a dancer was met at the end of the evening on August 9th 2015 by a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. One of the greatest dancers of her generation, Guillem started her career at the Paris Opéra and rose very quickly to Étoile at the age of 19. Since then she has performed in every major ballet company internationally.

Guillem’s tour comprises four pieces of modern choreography – new works by Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant and existing creations by Mats Ek and William Forsythe.

In the first piece, technê, by Akram Khan, Sylvie Guillem enters crouched and scurrying around quickly as in Japanese Suzuki movement. Centre stage is a tall metal mesh tree which takes on a life of its own as the dance progresses. Live musicians onstage are slowly revealed producing an atmospheric soundscape of shells blowing in the wind and echoed vocalising.

Guillem performs mystical insect like movements, dynamic and frenzied at times. Time passes in this deserted landscape until Guillem responds to other forces such as rhythmic percussion and drums to a mournful violin. She is strident in her fluid movement with outstretched then angular arms and exquisite leg extensions – then glides around the tree so smoothly.

Composer: Alies Sluiter. Musicians: Prathap Ramachandra, Grace Savage and Emma Smith. Costume designer: Kimie Nakano. Lighting designers: Adam Carrée, Lucy Carter.

DUO2015 choreographed by William Forsyth, danced by Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts is inspired by a clock and it’s intricate hands and movement. In the dance the choreography brings the two closer and into each other’s space then pulls further away. In silence, swingy stretched arms interrelate symmetrically and asymmetrically. Sometimes they almost fall on each other. As the sound begins fading in and out Gjoka and Watts fold and unfold around their torsos as they turn, jump, and slap their bodies – then suavely walk together. There is torsion and counter torsion as they each push and pull back in fast angular movement in competition.

Composer: Thom Willems. Lighting designer: Tanya Rühl.

Here and After choreographed by Russll Maliphant is a duo with Sylvie Guillem and Emanuela Montanari. A beautifully soft, warm spot light fades up centre stage on Guillem and Montanari – intertwined – as a violin note gets louder then softer. They move in slow adagio like graceful stretches melting in and around each other’s space. Piano is added and the movement builds from fluid to more pointed with extended arms and leg extensions and pirouettes. Cat like stretches and jaunty turns and whirls follow until heavy explosive metal sound arrives. Guillem and Montanari play and do contact dance to the industrial sound and techno drums all around the stage. Running, leaning, supporting until they leave the space.

Composer: Andy Cowton. Lighting designer: Michael Hulls. Costumes designer: Stevie Stewart.

The finale of the evening was the complex and utterly wonderful and appropriate Bye choreographed by Mats Ek set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C minor Op 111. Ek’s premise is that a woman enters a room and leaves when she is ready to join others. Integrating video and astonishing timing on Guillem’s part, she enters a space through a doorway wearing a moss green cardigan, yellow skirt, red ankle socks and black shoes, wearing a wig of red hair with a long plait down her back. She looks child-like and commences to dance intricate footwork with humor and stops to look back at the door several times. To classical piano Guillem jumps with precise footwork then goes into wild, quirky movement, playful and unpredictable, soulful with abandon – as if inner feelings are pushed and expressed until she leaves the room.

Several times she goes behind the doorway when the video shows part of her body – yet Guillem enters the room through the door again perfectly coordinating the video camera image to her own so the transitions are seamless. After standing on her head twice with stunning extensions she goes through the doorway and becomes part of a crowd, disappearing. This is a unique and outstanding creative work.

Set and Costume designer: Katrin Brännström. Lighting designer: Erik Berglund. Filmographer: Elias Benxon.

Sylvie Guillem performed superbly as ever – athletic and graceful – at the top of her game, as she said goodbye to Edinburgh, the ovation and curtain calls showed that she is greatly respected and appreciated by the knowledgeable audience. We wish her well in the next chapter in her life.

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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