Sylvie Guillem says goodbye with something new

It was an emotional farewell performance that almost defied belief that this was the final curtain on an astounding career.

Sylvie Guillem graced the stage one languid arm from the darkness into the light, leading her exquisite body into full view, bare legs, muscles, controlled and relinquished, creating shapes designed just for her by the sensational choreographer Akram Khan in ‘techne’.  

Khan’s stage is dark with a circle of light surrounding one single tree, the stage bare except for Sylvie’s incredible movements which take her body through angular, rapid tetching, insect like sharpness, she explores the landscape prowling, pursuing. Sylvie is intensely absorbed by her role, her body and mind focused, she takes the audience deeply with her as they wantonly don’t want to miss even the smallest movement, placement or shape of her body that she has honed to perfection over the last 39 years. Sylvie has control of every fibre of her dancer’s body, and it’s a pleasure to watch her intelligent approach, the choices she makes from the placement of her foot to the end of her fingertips. She is so effortlessly precise, a masterpiece in motion, and Khan’s piece shows her body and brain in full exposure.

Sylvie chose to say goodbye by creating a new production, working with choreographers close to her heart that have been instrumental throughout her career.

William Forsythe bid farewell with an offering of ‘Duo’, performed by two male dancers emulating time that pulls and vanishes along with the music. Dancers Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts were sensational, worthy of sharing Sylvie’s stage. They were adored by the audience as they dance with flowing symmetry, following each other, beautiful arms, strong movements. It was a wonderful interlude, while we all waited for the star to return.

Russell Maliphant created ‘Here & After’ in reverence to past experiences and works with Sylvie, although pushing the boundaries by setting a duet with another female dancer, Emanuela Montanari. The work begins solemn, a quiet dialogue between the two, an intertwined discourse, but all eyes were on Sylvie.

Bye, Sylvie says was the immediate choice and what a great way to end with a piece that is both intelligent, quirky, and iconic. Bye seems to reflect Sylvie’s attitude, her desire to push the boundaries, to challenge the norm, to do to the unexpected. Mat Ek’s Bye shows Sylvie child-like, entertaining, and poignant with his distinct choreographic language that she clearly thoroughly enjoys. Sylvie becomes the ‘woman who enters a room. After a while she is ready to leave it.’

And with that, Sylvie is ready and she disappears from the stage, the lights go out and you know that you have been privileged to watch a genius, as there is no dancer like her and probably never will be. It is an end of an era, but she leaves the dance world excited as we wonder, if she is Sylvie, what could possibly be next? She’s paved the way, raised the bar, set expectations, opened our minds to the endless possibilities, we except and expect our dancers to challenge themselves and us alike and to share this journey that will take us beyond current constrains and confines, to the edge, to new frontiers.

Sylvie changed dance forever, and we too will forever be changed.

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London 30 May 2015

by Savannah Saunders