Even the orchestra, who couldn't see her, gave Sylvie Guillem a standing ovation when she recently appeared with her old ballet company in Paris.
"OH GOD, it's Guillem," according to the ballerina herself, is what some people at the Paris Opera say when they see her approaching the theatre she left nine years ago for an international career.

But that has not stopped them from inviting her back for performances between now and early July in Nureyev's Don Quixote and Romeo and Juliet and MacMillan's Manon.

At her first night, on Tuesday, the company was at its most glittering and the packed audience greeted every dance with especially warm applause. At the end, among cries of "Brava Sylvie", even the orchestra, though they hadn't been able to see her perform, stood to applaud.

Kitri in Don Quixote is one of Sylvie Guillem's best and favourite parts. Nureyev, who taught her the role, described her in it as "like champagne", which perfectly describes her interpretation, so amazingly light, elegant, bubbling, heady and intoxicating.

She enjoyed a tremendous success in it with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden but looks even better in Paris for three reasons.

First, the production is so much better. Nureyev provided more and richer dances, and made the story fuller, clearer and more detailed, too. Nicholas Georgiadis's resplendent designs, inspired by Goya, give the characters a convincing habitat, and David Coleman conducts the Opera's orchestra in a loving, lively account of the Leon Minkus score, arranged by John Lanchbery.

Second, Guillem is surrounded by an ensemble who studied at the same school as she did. Their style echoes hers. They make the big classical dream scene delicately harmonious, they swoop, stamp and swirl their cloaks with fierce temperament as market people, gypsies, fishermen and matadors; and the bravura solos in the Dryads and wedding scenes are done with elan.

Above all, they can give her partners of her own standing, in technique and personality. This time it was Nicholas Le Riche, who was new to the Corps de Ballet when Guillem left the Opera but is now their most brilliant young star.

And for the honour and challenge of dancing with her, he used every fraction of his power in his solos, every bit of strength in partnering (including when she decided to raise one leg even higher while held up above his head), and every bit of casual charm in his acting.

One problem: to get into one of Guillem's performances, you would need either immense luck or to rob somebody who already has tickets. But there is one consolation: many other casts are dancing and with this company you get a good show whoever and whatever is on.

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