Sylvie Guillem, Sadler's Wells, London

A Maliphant that you'll never forget
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The Independent Culture

If there's one thing guaranteed to transform the fortunes of a struggling choreographer overnight - short of winning the lottery; no, including winning the lottery - it's to be taken up by Sylvie Guillem. The Parisian diva, approaching 40 and artistically in her prime, is currently effecting a career change. Swan Lake and Giselle no longer interest her. She's ready to stretch that phenomenal ballet body into new shapes, the more radical the better. We'll never know if the ripped ankle that scuppered her recent season at the Opera House was psychosomatic. What's important is that she was radiantly fit last week to meet her latest challenge: the work of Russell Maliphant.

If there's one thing guaranteed to transform the fortunes of a struggling choreographer overnight - short of winning the lottery; no, including winning the lottery - it's to be taken up by Sylvie Guillem. The Parisian diva, approaching 40 and artistically in her prime, is currently effecting a career change. Swan Lake and Giselle no longer interest her. She's ready to stretch that phenomenal ballet body into new shapes, the more radical the better. We'll never know if the ripped ankle that scuppered her recent season at the Opera House was psychosomatic. What's important is that she was radiantly fit last week to meet her latest challenge: the work of Russell Maliphant.

Guillem spotted Maliphant's talent at a modest retrospective at the Place two years ago. Since then she has engineered a Royal Ballet commission and persuaded him to make her a solo. Both pieces appeared last week at Sadler's Wells, along with Torsion, the signature duet Maliphant made for TV's ballet boyz, aka William Trevitt and Michael Nunn - two other products of classical training who have re-invented themselves spectacularly. As all three dancers have discovered, Maliphant's plumb-weighted, still-centred movement, informed by yoga and martial arts, is a perfect conduit for that cool new sensibility.

Torsion homes in on Nunn and Trevitt's friendship as much as their famous blend of stubble and classical finesse. Yet much of the duet has them go through separate motions, 20ft apart. Framed in squares of dim umber light on opposite sides of the stage, and buffeted by the sounds of cars and crowds against a fast drum beat, they dip and angle their upper bodies, arms whirring and slicing, feet rooted to the spot.

When the two finally cross the space to make contact, the relationship at first is one of taut suspicion, as if two-man partnering were dangerously untried. But as the pace hots up, they steadily develop a macho intimacy: Nunn toting Trevitt's rigid body like a weapon, or the pair braiding their torsos into a skein of industrial rope.

So close is the bond between Nunn and Trevitt that Guillem seems like an intruder when she first stalks into the trio Broken Fall. Yet once again initial wariness softens into wondrous trust, as Guillem allows the men greater and greater license, tossing and catching her horizontal body like lumberjacks with a log, or twining her torso around their waists sarong-style. At its Covent Garden premiere some of this still wore an edgy carefulness. (Any slip could mean a broken neck or worse.) Nine months on, the movement has the velvet stealth of bodies that know exactly what they're doing. A warrior-princess in crop top, tiny shorts and knee pads, Guillem climbs bodies, rises like a totem pole, makes hair-raising dives through thin air, yet maintains throughout an intense interior calm.

Yet for all the thrilling vertigo of Broken Fall, the real revelation comes in Guillem's solo, Two. Again imprisoned in a dim square of light (clearly a favourite theme of designer Michael Hulls), Guillem begins by simply extending and retracting her spun-glass limbs as if exploring the limits of their reach, the flowery coils of hands. Steadily the movement accelerates into wheeling loops. In effect, the dancer becomes a generator. I almost believed I saw sparks. If this is a preview of the new Sylvie Guillem, I can't wait to see what's next.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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