My own programme brochure autographed by Sylvie Guillem
I was really fortunate to get someone else's ticket for Sylvie Guillem's performance at Sadler's Wells on Saturday 30th May (I am so grateful to my friend C. for passing it on to me). I had been unable to secure a booking when the performances were announced last november, tickets were sold out within days, some say hours. Last week's performances at Sadler's were part of Guillem's final world tour before she quits dancing for good. The tour will end in Japan in December 2015 and I am sure that on the very last night there will be some very emotional scenes, as Sylvie Guillem's fans are very devoted to her. Quitting dance sounds so drastic a decision!
The atmosphere was highly charged on Saturday.
Sylvie Guillem is unique, as everyone knows, even people who are not into dance. She does not just have a most fantastic flexibility and mastery of technique, she is also a very intelligent and sensitive interpreter of dance. Her commitment to dance - first to classical ballet, then to contemporary - has been phenomenal. Her determination and strength of character have contributed to making her who she is. Perhaps we will have to wait for another hundred years before we get a dancer of her calibre.
I began to feel butterflies in my stomach from the moment I stepped into Sadler's Wells - I was super early because I was afraid I might be late and at the last minute I was overcome by great anxiety, suddenly convinced for no reason that I had gone to the wrong venue. Is it here or is it at the Coliseum, I asked a young woman selling programmes. Here, she said, somewhat bemused. I immediately grabbed a programme and texted my friend to let her know I was already at the theatre. We are on our way, she texted back. I still could not relax, despite all these reassurances.
I could not wait to get into the auditorium. When the show began and SHE appeared on stage I felt such great excitement, I was shaking. This was going to be a very special evening, I could feel it in my bones.
Bye Images by Sadler's Wells Theatre (reblogged from Arts Desk)Sylvie Guillem had chosen new choreography to mark her retirement. Techné choreographed by Akram Khan was a very elegant solo for the perfect Guillem, so were the other pieces, Here and After choreographed by Russell Maliphant and Duo by William Forsythe, one danced by Guillem with the lovely Emanuela Montanari, soloist at the Scala, the other exquisitely danced by Brigel Djoka and Riley Watts.
But the one that really moved me was Bye, which Guillem danced in the second half. It was very intense. Mats Ek is one of my favourite choreographers and he really created something that was absolutely right for Guillem, a piece that reminded the audience how incredibly strong, pliable and technically faultless she is and yet she has a fragility about her that makes her very human and approachable. It was a piece that encapsulated Guillem's farewell, with beauty and dignity.
Guillem is a dance goddess but she does not come across as a diva, either on or off stage. She fully inhabits the choreographies she dances, she has subtlety and is able to make the audience experience in full the beauty and emotion of a carefully trained moving body. Everything about her dancing spells perfection, awkwardness is an impossibility for Guillem and it has probably been so from the time she began.
I like what Sylvie Guillem says about dance, that it 'found' her - it is something that echoes what another dancer I greatly admire, Alessandra Ferri, also says about herself and her relationship to dance - they are contemporaries and it is interesting that whereas Guillem is retiring, Ferri has returned to dance, after a long break. That dance 'found' her does not mean it did not require discipline and rigour. For Guillem - so she says - it was the thought of her audience, the expectations of those who go and see her that have kept her motivated to try out new things till the end.
She is quitting dance now when she is still so phenomenally good at doing what she does because she feels, quite simply, that it is the right time for her to do so - and who is to question that? These are very personal decisions, never taken lightly: by committing herself to one last world tour, Guillem is sharing this turning point in her life with her large and very devoted global audience.
I am not usually one to be found queuing up at stage doors after a performance to catch a glimpse of the artists, to get an autograph and possibly, the now de rigueur selfie. But on Saturday night I could not tear myself away, I had to go and see this wonderful woman.
Taking selfies with Sylvie Guillem. Photo by a friendI felt like an awkward teenager when she came out, with her flaming red hair, and all smiles. I addressed her as Madame and she was kind and friendly, signed my programme and even suggested a better angle for the selfie - there was such a strong glaring light, it ruined my picture, she saw that and graciously posed for a second one. She was affable to everyone and spoke several languages at once - English, French, Italian. Guillem's fans love her and she genuinely loves them back. She knows they all want to take home a piece of her, with the selfies, the autograph, the handshake and ever the consummate professional, she does not hold herself back. There was a mutually respectful attitude in this post performance encounter between Sylvie Guillem and her audience and it was a real joy to watch her being so at ease. There was none of the preciousness that other great artists sometimes display.
I now have a programme brochure I will treasure in the years to come and probably show to my grandchildren if I ever have any. I have been reading it from cover to cover several times and love looking at Guillem's flowery signature and the picture of herself as a pretty little girl, sitting beautifully straight and looking somewhat quizzically into camera, with a hint of a smile, a picture which she chose to have on the brochure's cover. If I close my eyes, the memory of her on stage is still very vivid.
Selfie with Sylvie GuillemSylvie Guillem: Life in Progress. That was the title chosen for the world tour. A reminder that life goes on, doors close but new ones also open, even though we may not yet know about them. A reminder, also, that everything ends and that sometimes it is better to take control and decide when to end, rather than letting it passively happen or worse, trying to stop the inevitable.