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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor