Life in Progress (5 stars)

This article is from 2015

Life in Progress

Credit: Bill Cooper

A magnificent showcase from a dance master

‘The dancer’s body carries the memory of all the lives it has described,’ says Akram Khan in his notes for technê, the piece he created for Sylvie Guillem. If so, Guillem’s body is full to the brim with these ghosts, having had a career spanning 39 years in companies including the Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet.

Now 50, Guillem is retiring from dance, and to celebrate the closing of this part of her life, Life in Progress brings together four choreographers whose work has shaped her career.

At first it’s hard to know what we are looking at in technê, though it burns gloriously. Soon it’s revealed as a silver tree, forming the (off) centrepiece for a solo dance as feral as it is sprightly. Squatting to the ground, Guillem scurries along at an alarming rate, insectile and curious; later in tight spins and playful jigs she looks almost weightless. Alies Sluiter’s score sputters and smacks with Grace Savage’s beatbox sounds and lush Indian melodies, and the whole thing feels like a dance of wisdom and yet great innocence. As an introduction to Guillem’s chameleonic movement vocabulary it couldn’t be better.

Timing is everything in William Forsythe’s DUO2015, a re-working of an earlier piece, performed here by Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts. Like cogs in a pocketwatch their arms swing in sequence, or fold gently to a halt, passing patterns between each other. Sound emerges, high and chiming, like water glasses played by a finger, and the dance expands, filling the space and time with increasing freedom, until it seems as if the duo can manipulate both, through the speed and control of their bodies. It’s playful and exhilarating to watch them come full circle to a graceful stop.

In Here & After Guillem’s panache is put on show. Russell Maliphant’s choreography sees her paired with Emanuela Montanari in a new duet that draws on her previous work. Michael Hulls’ amber lighting looks so rich you want to drink it, and forms the perfect gauze for the slow, clean opening. After a while the score ramps up and we’re whipped into sassier territory as the two mirror-image women become partners, flinging each other about in whipcrack time.

But rather than this glamorous showpiece, it’s Mats Ek’s 2011 Bye that Guillem has chosen for her grand finale. And if you didn’t love her before this point, you’d have to have a heart of ice not to afterwards. Ek’s piece, set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, is a celebration of elegance and awkwardness; in short the movements that define humans. There are headstands, strides, doll-legged swings, Guillem is a baby one minute and a goddess the next. On the digital screen she interacts with, a family gathers, beckoning her away. And it’s then that the moment comes when you realise you just don’t want her to leave.

Life in Progress, Festival Theatre, 473 2000, until 10 Aug, 7.30pm, £14--£50 (£7--£25).

Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress

  • 5 stars

Hailed as one of the greatest dancers of her generation, Sylvie Guillem embarks on her final world tour, in a programme that features new works by Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant and existing creations by Mats Ek and William Forsythe. Guillem began training at the Paris Opera Ballet School in 1977, and in 1981 joined the…