Dance review: Sylvie Guillem, Sadler’s Wells, London


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The Independent Culture

Some stars become famous far beyond their own fields. You don't need to be interested in running to know about Usain Bolt; you don’t need to be interested in dance to have heard of French ballerina Sylvie Guillem. In both cases, the fame comes from something beyond their undoubted skill. It’s about charisma, the personality that shines through the technique.

At 48, Guillem has moved away from classical ballet. Her show 6000 Miles Away, created in 2011, is a personal showcase: works made for her by leading choreographers William Forsythe and Mats Ek, plus a duet by Jirí Kylián. It’s a reflection of Guillem’s own tastes and interests; one performance will raise money for marine charity Sea Shepherd.

Though it’s a personal show, the first half borders on alienating. We first see Guillem in Forsythe’s Rearray, a stop-start duet that takes classical steps apart and wonders whether to put them back together. Blackouts slice the material into short chunks. Guillem and Massimo Murru will take a crisp academic pose then wriggle their way out of it, bump through little knee bends, stroll on and off. The performance style is cool – in both senses – and withdrawn.

It’s still a showcase for Guillem’s remarkable physique: long legs and wiry flexibility under a mop of red hair. She dips into a deep plié, straightens one leg so the stretch is even deeper – then somehow finds the extra reach to dip further, bumping one buttock to the floor.

It’s virtuoso gawkiness, but as Forsythe goes on worrying at knots of movement, it becomes repetitive. Paired with Kylián’s 27’52”, in which Nederlands Dans Theater’s Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak pluck at their clothes, wind around each other and fail to communicate, it makes a chilly first half.

Things warm up with Ek’s Bye, a quirky solo that shows Guillem as a woman making decisions, making sense of her life. She interacts with her own filmed image, wittily popping in and out of sight on screen and in the flesh. Dressed in a mustard skirt and garish blouse, she skips and scampers, bounding through a jump or upending herself in a headstand. Her famous “six o’clock” legs are still there, swinging sky high almost in passing. 

This time, the contrasts are lit up by an engaged, bright performance. You can follow Guillem’s rippling movement as if it were a train of thought, the star personality unleashed. The goofy squats look stubborn or determined, before she takes off in delighted flight.

Until 25 May. Box office 0844 412 4300