Sylvie Guillem, Sadler's Wells, London

Artistry and ageing inspire new works for the woman who thrills choreographers and audiences

Lean as a whip, subtle as a snake, there is nobody – and no body – on the dance stage as fascinating as Sylvie Guillem.

Now 46, she may have relinquished the classical roles that made her name, but her sideways step into contemporary work has seen no diminishing of her powers, not one jot.

For her latest venture – titled 6000 Miles Away in reference to quake-stricken Japan – she has commissioned work from veteran dance-smiths William Forsythe and Mats Ek, for whom she has been muse for 20 years. She has "a blue flame within her", is how Ek puts it, "in her movements, in her precision". Forsythe cites her intelligence on stage. The piece each makes for her is at once an act of homage and a clear-eyed disquisition on artistry and ageing.

Forsythe's Rearray, a duet for Guillem and Nicolas le Riche, a partner from her Paris Opera days, begins in typical Forsythe mode: house lights up, stage dark as a coal hole, eliciting a faint groan from a seasoned critic sitting behind me. Tricksy theatricals are soon forgotten, though, as a no-nonsense rigour takes hold, almost savage in its lack of frills.

Through a cobwebby veil of music by David Morrow, feathery strings and moans of horn slipping in and out of blacked silence, the pair work moves that intermittently hark back to their glory days. She flicks out an extended leg, swift as a lizard's tongue, or lifts an arm imperial in its curve. He beats his feet like hummingbird wings, or descends to one knee only to scuttle across the floor on both – a one-time prince brought to earth.

This is hardly your regular pas de deux designed for display of the female form. Workmanlike in T-shirt and jeans, Guillem risks total effacement in the gloom, though the liveness of her torso, her miraculous control as she whips or decelerates through turns, seems to confer heightened powers of seeing. This piece is hard work, though, and the first-night applause was muted.

Just as well, then, that Mats Ek opted to exploit Guillem's comic talents, creating in Bye a quirky solo that envisages for her a slightly batty old age, with the help of a video portal from which a dog, a family and sometimes her own self peer out at her with curiosity. Recalling the popular poem that begins "When I am an old woman/ I shall wear purple ...", Guillem dons a jumble-sale skirt and frumpy blouse. But even these cannot mask her articulacy as she zones in and out of reminiscence, cartoon stick-body giving way to lithe effusions of girlishness, headstands included. All this is set to the sublime last movement of Beet-hoven's final piano sonata that some will shudder to hear used this way, but Ek just about gets away with it.

Less successful is Guillem's bid to clear herself some recovery time by drafting in two stars from Nederlands Dans Theater to deliver a slick duet by Jiri Kylian as the sandwich filler. They were superb, and sexy too, but it was the middle-aged Parisienne with the peculiar half-way haircut that everyone had come to see.

Returns to Sadler's Wells 22-25 Sep.

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert sees the rarely staged Romeo and Juliet of Frederick Ashton

Dance Choice

It's an awful long trip and they don't make it often, so don't miss Royal New Zealand Ballet's short London visit, the first under starry new director Ethan Stiefel. A triple bill includes Bandillero, choreographed and designed by Javier de Frutos and set to the charged music of Chinese virtuoso percussionist Yim Hok-Man. At the Barbican, Thu, Fri & Sat.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas