Sylvie Guillem

Sylvie Guillem CBE (born 23 February 1965 in Paris, France) is a French ballet dancer. She was the top-ranking female dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet from 1984 to 1989, before becoming a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet in London. She is currently performing contemporary dance as an Associate Artist of London's Sadler's Wells Theatre. Her most notable performances have included those in Giselle and in Rudolf Nureyev's stagings of Swan Lake and Don Quixote. [...]

Sylvie Guillem: Interview and Rehearsals (vid)

Sylvie Guillem
Diva. Rebel. Perfectionist. And the most dynamic dancer of her era. Tim Adams meets the radical ballerina Sylvie Guillem

THE morning after the night before the world's greatest ballerina, Sylvie Guillem, is moving like the Tin Man as she collects a plateful of breakfast pastries in a Berlin hotel. She's 42 now, but she says her stiffness isn't much to do with age. Nearly every morning of her adult life has been like this. 'It would be nice to wake up and be able to walk to the bathroom,' she says. 'But even when I was 20 and at the Paris Opera I had to crawl down the stairs; it is only when I start to work and stretch that my body begins to recover again.' [...]

ALMOST uniquely for a ballerina, Guillem did not begin to dance until she was 11 or 12. 'Dancing was never my world. It was more like a challenge: let's see how far I can go, let's see what my body can do.' She is, she suggests, still looking for the limits. Having changed the rules on the classical repertoire with her iconoclastic strength of mind and body she is increasingly looking to contemporary choreographers for these challenges.

She says she saw Russell Maliphant's work and immediately wanted to try it because the language - which draws on martial arts and Brazilian capoeira - was completely different. 'When you do one more Cinderella or whatever, what is there to learn? Every part in the repertoire has a good side and a bad side and the more often you do the same ballet the more often the bad side comes out. If you want to give dance life you must give it fresh food, not keep going back to the garbage to look for old scraps ...'

Over the years it is this restless search for perfection that has given Guillem her reputation as a diva. I had been led to expect froideur, but even at this hour in the morning she presents a compulsive engagement. She clearly does not suffer fools, but she is impassioned and quick to laugh. The two words I write down in my notebook are 'vivid' and 'uncompromising', but she is full of charm, too. Having been discovered by Rudolf Nureyev at the Paris Opera in her teens, she walked out on her mentor to join the Royal Ballet at 24. At Covent Garden she earned herself the nickname 'Mademoiselle Non' because she insisted on redesigning her costumes, vetoing her partners; she clashed with the Royal Ballet's revered choreographer, the late Kenneth MacMillan. The reputation had nothing to do with ego and everything to do with a finite sense of time, she says.

'The career is short; I felt there were things I had to achieve for myself. That was why I left the Paris Opera. I can't let people use my time. I can't wear a costume I do not feel good in. I would not dance too well - it is logical. It was an ego problem with Kenneth MacMillan. One day I refused to do a ballet called My Brother, My Sister and that was it. I was the spoilt star, the French problem. I just wanted to dance well.' [...]
IF she is fierce about film, she can be vicious when it comes to photography. 'I heard a lot of "Who does she think she is?" But I am just somebody who did not want to look ugly or stupid in a picture. Why should I spend all my day working to present the best I can to let someone who takes one bad picture or one bad film destroy what I do? Newspapers were wanting to come into rehearsal, take any picture and choose themselves what to publish. To me that is a lack of respect.'

When Guillem was approached by French Vogue to be photographed seven years ago she was presented with a clutch of the world's best fashion photographers to choose from. She rejected all of them out of hand on the basis that they would not 'see who I was ... I knew I would end up as a mannequin. I would not do that.'

There is no vanity to her - 'I am like this tall asparagus' - and to prove the point she photographed herself naked for the magazine, a dramatic and candid view of a working, punished dancer's body. She coolly imagines it was the 'picture with the two legs apart and the camera in the middle' that mostly shocked people. [...]

A Diva Ballerina's Long Leap

EVER since Sylvie Guillem was a young gymnast, she has suffered from stage fright. “There’s a picture of me as a little girl,” she recalled recently, “and I’m waiting to go onstage, and I am biting the last bit of nail I have left on my finger.”

With age, she added, her fear has worsened. “Between what I know I can do and want to achieve and what the audience expects, it’s a lot of pressure, and it’s always adding up.”

Yet at 41, Ms. Guillem is reinventing herself. Having become perhaps the most celebrated ballerina of her generation, she is now becoming a contemporary dancer.

As they exit their 30’s, most dancers try to minimize risk to extend their time on the stage. But ballet’s reigning diva is embracing it. Only a handful of ballerinas make it past 40, so Ms. Guillem, bored by the classics and determined to test new forms and her own limits, is exploring her options while she still has them. And she is doing so by performing the most physically demanding movement of her career. [...]

TALK of Ms. Guillem has always centered on what her body can do. “She can take a leg to places I can’t begin to think about and make it look beautiful,” said Russell Maliphant, the Push choreographer, whose athletic, restrained style is culled from contact improvisation, hip-hop, capoeira and tai chi.

“She invented her body to some degree,” said the choreographer William Forsythe, who has made two works for her. “Someone else might have that body, but without Sylvie’s mind inside it, it wouldn’t be as interesting.”

Remarkably Ms. Guillem was 36 before she was sidelined by an injury. Now, “you listen to every kind of signal that your body sends you, whereas before, you didn’t,” she said. “It’s the school of life.”

But she acknowledged that her body will inevitably let her down; her keen mind can will it only so far. “I’m still exploring, opening my eyes to the fact that the journey will end,” she said bluntly. “I don’t blind myself, but I still have a few things I want to do.” There is one prerequisite: there has to be “a mystery,” as she puts it. “Doing new work, you see yourself differently. You learn what you’re afraid of.”

When she first worked with Mr. Maliphant, on his 2003 Broken Fall, a sensation at its premiere in London, she struggled with a step that her partners, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn, had already absorbed. “She had to go from kneeling down to standing up by throwing one leg behind her,” recalled Mr. Trevitt. “She went home and practiced it all night. She came in the next day covered in bruises, but she had cracked it.” Most dancers, he added, would have said, “ ‘I can’t do that, give me a different step.’ Sylvie has this determination not to be beaten by it.” [...]
SHE saw an opportunity in Sadler’s Wells, which has become a lab for new dance and boasts some of the hottest choreographers in Britain. Its artistic director, Alistair Spalding. was prepared to make her a partner. “We’ll say, ‘What do you want to do?’ ” he explained, “and create the circumstances to make it happen.”

And so they did. With Ms. Guillem in the house, Sadler’s Wells has had an upsurge in ticket sales, media attention and interest in Mr. Maliphant’s work. “Push” had its premiere to ecstatic reviews last fall and won the 2005 Olivier Award for best new dance. Its success led Ms. Guillem to join Sadler’s Wells as artistic associate in June and to set in motion a third project with Mr. Maliphant. She will no longer be listed as principal guest artist of the Royal Ballet, as she has since 1989. “I have no relationship,” she emphasized. “None.”

“Push” gives Ms. Guillem her first star showcase in New York. City Center hopes that she will bring in both the ballet crowd and new audiences, as she did in London. The work inaugurates the partnership between City Center and Sadler’s Wells. “I think dance is suffering because you still have a lot of ghettoes,” she said. “You’re either a classical dancer, or you’re a contemporary dancer and all that goes with it. I don’t like this veneration for one technique.”

The ballet stars Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov made a similar move into modern dance. Ms. Guillem shares their rare combination of glamour, artistry and box-office clout. But she is the first star ballerina to hire her own choreographers, negotiate her own contracts and work steadily outside her own company and tradition.

In the process she may also find a new audience. She regularly sells out opera houses in Europe and Asia, but Ms. Guillem is not a household name in America. In part that is because she has refused to cultivate her celebrity offstage, or perhaps because she wants to exert more control than others are willing to cede to her. “I don’t need to be known by people who just recognize your face but don’t know what you do,” she said. “I’m not someone who does anything and everything to be known.” [...]


Sadler's Wells, London
TWO years ago, when Sylvie Guillem first pitted herself against the hurtling athleticism and liquid stillness of Russell Maliphant's choreography, the effect was transforming. This most elegant of classical ballerinas seemed a new dancer. But if the chemistry is extreme when Guillem is performing Maliphant's choreography, it looks even more striking in this new programme when she's dancing with him. On the ballet stage this could never have happened - Guillem in point shoes would have towered over Maliphant's compact, quiet body. Yet from their first entrance, where Guillem crouches on Maliphant's shoulders then unwinds with flickering grace around him, the affinity between them is charged and immense. [...]

On the Edge (Sur le Fil), ft. Push

On Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant
PUSH, a collection of four pieces performed by Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant (who choreographed them) flattered and disappointed as much as it delivered. The opening night at the Sydney Opera House was the perfect example of a portmanteau program so patchy that a single answer to "Was it any good?" is hard to find.

There are moments of beauty that still move somewhere between my eyes and my brain, they are shapes or trajectories, movements that looked and felt perfect for an instant and in doing so sustained themselves long afterward. At the same time so much seemed familiar and predictable. Cliché is the enemy of art and in the trawl through familar tropes many stones were rolled and few left unturned.

Sylvie Guillem - official site

Invitation: Sylvie Guillem (hardcover)
Sylvie Guillem, in my opinion the most relevant female artist of today, has again pulled it off with this stunning "family album", correctly named Invitation. After "Sylvie Guillem" - the little book of photographs, which sold out completely in just a few weeks, it was clear that Guillem's fans were craving for more photographic details on the "artiste étoile".

With this new book, Guillem "invites" us to take a privileged seat and quietly realize her busy and most unusual life. Each photo, carefully picked, is in itself an isolated object that demands paused and profound contemplation. Her exquisite artistry oozes from every detail, every movement, and every second captured on film.

Also, important to mention and recognize, is the amazing talent of Gilles Tapie (French photographer) who has followed Guillem for many years, and because of whom this book was made possible. His work is raw and powerful at times, and gentle and almost ethereal at others...Some of Guillem's self-portraits are also included on this book, and her amazing ability to push the limits a bit further is prominent in those particular captures.

Documents on the subject of Sylvie Guillem are rare, may they be taped or printed, and are mere peek holes over a much greater reality. But this time, Guillem has opened a wide window over herself, and the invitation to let us watch her is sincere. The book itself is huge and heavy (about 400 photos), a clear proof that Guillem was willing to show a lot, and surely delivers with this masterpiece.

Two - choreagraphed by Russell Maliphant