Tag Archives: Sylvie Guillem

My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

Sylvie Guillem / 6.000 miles away / Sadler’s Wells – 06 July 2011

8 Jul

Every time I have to write about Sylvie Guillem I find it extremely difficult, how does one put in words the outcome of an evening with such a wonderful and sensory overload. How can I do justice to a true wonder of our times.

To experience Guillem live is to be part of something very special, a true fusion of art, spirituality and curiosity. My first ever live exposure to her art was at the Nureyev gala at The Royal Opera House back in 2003. She danced the pas des deux In the Middle Somewhat Elevated which was specially created for her while she was an etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet by William Forsythe. Last night it was almost a rekindling of those feelings and admiration that she generated almost a decade ago.

The programme was as follows:

The evening’s start, the new piece by Forsythe, Rearray was an interesting confection. The stage was set up in what it looked like a well-worn dance studio in shades of dark grey with a bar attached to the wall. Guillem and Le Riche did not use that back wall in any way, it seemed that Forsythe chose to carve the relationship of the two characters with the use of dramatic, lighting that subdivided the action and fragmented the narrative. The dim lighting which was the main phase of the scheme was highlighting the fast movement of the choreography and especially Guillem’s velvet smooth arm and hand gestures created shapes not unlike light pen drawings that Picasso made all the rage back in the 1940s. Almost 3d calligraphy and an exploration of the bodies of the two dancers intertwining and at times mirroring each other’s aerial shape making. The piece did not have too many lifts or too much body contact. The two dancers retold abstract episodes with the lights dimming and going off creating a buffer from one episode to another.

The general mood of the piece was warm mainly generated by the clear familiarity of the two dancers, they both go back to their Paris Opera days being both hand-picked by Nureyev and showing a very particular brand of elegant step marking and physicality. Forsythe used very effectively Le Riche’s imposing physique and his equally powerful delivery is a perfect foil for Sylvie’s fluid delivery, almost a tree against an overflowing river. He accentuated the very sensitivity of Guillem’s dancing that is one of its more distinctive features. Against a less masculine partner she could have easily dominated with her gymnast proportions. She has mentioned in recent interviews that she asked Forsythe to not scale back his requirements but to try and stretch her capabilities. Surely most of the pacing is exhausting and makes her command the stage in her very unique way. Forsythe knows her well and Rearray lives in the mind, a day later it has grown more and more. One sour aspect for me was the music accompaniment (by David Morrow) a particular brand of post modern cacophony that contemporary choreographers seem to be perennially in love with. It wasn’t terribly inspired and I usually find a clash between a found piece of music with a new dance work is a great combination.

The second piece by Jiří Kylián (27’52”) was a much more hands on affair between the two dancers. With some extraordinary scenes of tense exchange between the two protagonists. With long lengths of grey rubber, pliable flooring material covering the dancers from time to time creating a separating layer was an interesting addition. The piece had an undercurrent of trauma and violence a true contrast to what came before. Aurelie Cayla removed her red flowing top after a terse exchange and lied immobile on the floor for the next few minutes allowing Kojiri to dance a triumphant solo. A disquieting middle point in the choreography where her exposed torso becomes a lifeless prop for relentless shaking and bending. It was arresting with its ferocious rhythms and Mahlerian musical themes weaving a spunky full-on narrative. Really appreciated at that point the brief interval to catch some fresh air and wonder what Mats Ek would do with one of his top muses!

Bye was a thirty minute solo for Guillem starting behind a projection screen (with a whimsical extreme close-up) she climbs up it trying to make it through to the stage. Almost a flashback from some extraordinary visual effects they employed for her last Sadler’s Wells outing two years ago with Eonnagata. This time round it was employed in a much more humorous way. She relished appearing in surely the most frumpy stage outfit any dancer would ever wear. A mustard coloured skirt with a purple patterned shirt, a green cardigan and a pair of pink pop socks (that she quickly removes alongside her shoes and dances barefoot). She seemed to be portraying a homely figure on stage with a rather cooky sense of joie de vivre…she made all too clear with three headstands where she created a Y shape and held with sheer excitement.

The piece had Sylvie’s signature high kicks and mesmerizing fluidity. The projections on the door-like opening continue throughout the work with some live video of her stretched on the floor, almost in a simulation of a full body photocopying process. Her in sync and out of sync movements on the screen both mirrored the action and frozen the narrative into a purely aesthetic product. When things turned “too pretty” a man appears on-screen that is clearly looking for her and followed by a sweet docile family dog (which caused a lot of laughter in the auditorium) which was followed by a huge family looking at her dancing. The humour and Guillem’s magnetic presence was clearly the core of the piece. Almost a glimpse of a more domestic Sylvie that lifts her everyday life with humorous posing and a few playful headstands? It was endearing and heartfelt, the kind of piece that hits one’s heart straight on. She was dancing to the Arietta from Beethoven’s last piano sonata Op.111 as played by Ivo Pogorelich. As a certain (wonderful) pianist said to me it was a very dull piece and he’s milking its dullness but this was exactly the right piece for the occasion. She elevated the pretty straight-laced music into an extraordinary conversation. The movement both following the sound but also adding meaning and tenderness.

All in all it was moving, it was intelligent, it was skilful. A great evening out with arguably the greatest ballerina of our times.

PS it was a rather funny audience on the night a mix of ex dancers, assorted musicians (including Stephen Hough on front row) a mother with her 10-year-old son and a biker in full leather gear that brought his helmet in the auditorium! Not the kind of audience one would see at the Coliseum or the Royal Opera House which got me thinking about how different dance audiences are to opera ones! One interesting extra thing was how the performance started, with the lights still on the curtain opened and Le Riche and Guillem stood immobile in the darkened stage quietly silencing the loud chatting audience an effective and engaging start to a memorable evening. I will be seeing it again in September, will make sure to add any more observations to this piece if need be.

2012 Update

Sylvie Guillem was awarded the Outstanding Female Performance (Modern) prize for 6.000 Miles Away at the The 12th (The Critics’ Circle) National Dance Awards in London on 23 January 2012. 

2013 Update

With the upcoming return of Guillem to Sadler’s Wells the Guardian has put online some filmed excerpts from 6.000 miles away.

Sylvie, that goddess

21 Jun

Sometimes superlatives prop up in so many contexts where they do not truly belong. But one artist that has thrilled and touched me like no other is Sylvie Guillem. When people talk about unimaginable magic they are not being stupidly twee, she has always found a way to give me goosebumps on stage whether she was dancing A Month in the Country, Manon or Eonnagata. An artist of such quality and consummate intelligence is very rare.  Of course there are a lot of amazing dancers out there but Guillem has a beguiling quality that I find particularly enchanting. In essence this is my blogged love letter to one of the most singular personalities of the world of ballet and dance. 

I will never forget seeing her perform from Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated at the Nureyev gala in Covent Garden, her pas des deux with Laurent Hilaire. It was beyond definitions of greatness, a suitable tribute to her mentor and the breathtaking central axis of the evening. From that night on I was in love.

Her upcoming world premieres at Sadler’s Wells which I have anticipated for the last six months will be an early highlight of my July. The stakes are high and she’s collaborating with Mats Ek and William Forsythe, great things are to be expected. I’ll surely write a breathless blog about the experience…while I’ll be booking for the encore performances in September!

For any newbies to Sylvie have a look at the following:

Interview to Judith Mackrell on the occasion of the Nureyev gala at the Royal Opera House in 2003. Which was my initiation to her art.

Interview to Another Magazine on the occasion of 6000 miles away at Sadler’s Wells

The quirky website of the said goddess of dance

Sylvie Guillem and the uncertainty of a new creation

28 Jun


Back in March 2009 I watched the final preview of Eonnagata
a stellar collaboration between Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and Robert Lepage with some incredible costumes by Alexander McQueen. The result was aninteresting and sometimes heady mix of Japanese kabuki, mime, dance and straight narrative. All three protagonists looked terribly excited to be on stage. Sylvie was genuinely glowing and Maliphant surely looked a very manly version of the Chevalier d’Éon. Lepage on the other hand looked very assured, despite the plain fact that his metier is directing and not being on the stage. The most wonderful aspect was the expectation of what those great artists have come
up with. Especially when considering the past collaborations between Maliphant and Guillem gave us some veritable gems.

Creating such a hybrid art form that mixes so many types of
performance is bound to be problematic
. And in this occasion the plot was wandering when it was trying to create beautiful images while falling the story by slowing down the pace of the narration. The best example being Maliphant’s battle scene. Surely one of the most
dramatically staged parts of the evening,but with very little character development. The musical choices where
very interesting and magpie like, but unfortunately clothed in a post modern ramble and haze that was not wholly appropriate. It gave the starting scene the air of a blockbuster action movie. Which I don’t think makes enough connection with the heart of the story.

Despite those failures Sylvie managed to use her stage
charisma to create some truly electrifying moments.
For instance her letter writing scene is a treatise on abstract characterisation and how it can be mingled with narrative passages, advancing the plot and humanising the character.

After the Premiere a couple of days after my experience of
the piece I looked forward to the reviews.
Most dance critics thought the work was confusing and lacked focus. A couple of them said the work was too long and that Lepage was not a natural dancer and the choreography was scaled down to suit him. All in all it seemed like a pretty unkind reaction to the work and surely not the warm reception that Guillem is used to.

When I received an email in early May that they would be
returning for another week of performances in June I instantly bought a pair of tickets in order to experience the work in its final form. On Friday 26 June I was in Row A trying to experience anew the work, wondering what alterations they had made. To my dismay two whole
scenes where cut, including the rather poetic sea passage from France to the UK.
This originally gave a wonderful respite from the action and allowed more compassion for the hero/heroine. Also a number of parts where shortened making the autopsy finale fell all too soon. While in the preview when the stage darkened with the ageing Chevalier’s body on the anatomist’s slab it was a shocking conclusion and a moment of catharsis both for the audience and the performers. This second time around the finale looked as if it had no reason to exist and had a hollow theatrical feel.

Deep in my heart I was disappointed, despite the great gift Sylvie Guillem is to the theatre. Her presence was not
enough to save the piece from its ponderous and slightly crushed ambition.
My feeling on the night was that the cuts were made in order to make the running time shorter by 15 minutes. Thus reacting to the main initial criticism. As
most of the other ones could not be addressed effectively without ripping the choreography apart.

I still felt that we were touched by greatness but somehow I
also sensed that all three of them did not want to be on the Sadler’s Wells stage. My one hope is that Sylvie and
Maliphant will rework the piece
and remove some of its dubious “post-modern” stylings and give the Chevalier the chance to shine.  I do wish her more luck with her next project and surely I’ll be there to applaud her.

Manon / 13 November 2005

13 Nov
Tonight we went to see Manon with Sylvie Guillem.
 
It was fantastic seeing her re-interpreting the classic MacMillan ballet in her own unique style.
 
There are no words to describe how exciting it was…
the fact that she got the most loud and long standing ovation that I have ever witnessed…describes the atmosphere in the auditorium.
Surely it was history in the making. A great ballerina re-creating a signature piece. It’s even more moving casting my mind back to the problems she had with MacMillan and how she overcame them by making the choreography her own.
A great night. one to remember for a very long time.
%d bloggers like this: