SYLVIE GUILLEM LIFE IN PROGRESS
November 18, 2015
Shaken by the news of the three separate terrorist attacks in Paris, people flowed into City Center to watch one of France’s celebrated ballet products, Sylvie Guillem. Before heading up to “Sylvie Guillem Life in Progress” -- her farewell program -- I contacted City Center to see if the show was canceled. It wasn’t. However, I felt certain the day’s tragedy would be acknowledged. It wasn’t. The show went on. Now that’s understandable, particularly since art is said to heal and touch souls, but artists are also an integral part of our complex society. A call for a moment of silence was missed.
After 39 years of dancing professionally on a level only imagined by few, Ms. Guillem, the once-upon-a-time gymnast who turned to ballet at age 11, joined the Paris Opera Ballet at 16, and rose to etoile three years later, soon became an international sensation. Long and lean, her rubbery limbs rise and unfurl effortlessly. In this final tour, Guillem invited works by Akram Khan, William Forsythe, Russell Maliphant and Mats Ek.
Still a robust dancer, Ms. Guillem sat out one dance, DUO2015 by William Forsythe for two men, Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts. Little space is consumed in a piece where the dancers stand next to each other dropping their weight into slouchy, asymmetrical poses. Looking casual in tank tops and loose pants, the shifts from pose to loopy run suggest a form of extreme yoga.
In Maliphant’s “Here & After” Guillem dances with Emanuela Montanari. A female buddy dance, they move fluidly through an athletic, abstract duet that includes elements of Brazilian martial arts. Mostly mirroring each other, arms windmill while legs whip up over the other’s neck, spill into a flurry of turns, and jagged partner dance. Squares appear and disappear on the floor by lighting designer Michael Hulls, heightening the allure of the chase.
Unsure whether she’s a praying mantis or a scorpion, the opening piece TECHNE by Akram Khan
spotlights Guillem’s famous flexibility and wiry strength. Hunched to the floor, legs spring apart and end in fingers rippling, sensing the air. Circling a honeycombed tree center stage, Guillem’s body parts are animated in this play with the ground, middle and high space. Exceptionally nimble and committed, Guillem follows a circular path created by light projections on the floor—a cycle of life and dance.
To close, Guillem turns to Mats Ek, the son of the groundbreaking dance filmmaker and choreographer Birgit Cullberg. To the right of the audience, a film by Elia Benxon materializes in a door-size panel. Her sinewy body covered up in a skirt and loose sweater, Guillem bounces back and forth from projected to real image. Clever visual puns show Guillem stepping in and out of the black and white film, until finally, she steps into the frame and backs away joined by a family of friends and presumably, the next phase of life. For those who watched her grow up, Guillem’s awesome technical facility will remain vivid.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis