Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress- Sadler’s Wells, May 29th 2015

Five stars for this from most reviewers? Five stars for Guillem I could understand, but only if people are five starring her entire career (which they are). I’d have given it maybe two stars, or on TheOperatunist’s trademark well harsh ratings, about 5/10 at the most.

The first piece Akram Khan’s “technê” was Guillem moving around a skeletal tree like she was riding a tricycle with the worlds tiniest wheels, accompanied by some terrible and forgettable “music”, provided by some woman with a handheld microphone making whooshing noises into it, helped by some guy with a laptop adding a lot of reverb to the whooshing. Some guy does some ethnic drumming too of course. At one point the tree lights up a bit. The stage floor was covered with what looked like a picture of the dark side of the moon – which wasn’t seen until 1959. That small fact is more interesting than that whole piece.

The second piece, Forsythe’s “Duo” was two guys, one quite strapping, the other less so, cavorting around. The smaller guy had a balletic line, and the bigger guy looked like a hipster dude, like someone who would make you an artisanal hotdog or who enjoyed weightlifting and going out with his bros. The guys sitting behind me said that in movement they looked like she was their sons. Fair enough, but I wondered where Guillem was. Then I realised, everyone needs a breather from time to time. Artisanal hotdog guy got really sweaty, and that was about the most interesting thing in that whole piece.*

The third piece was a duet (Russell Maliphant’s Here & After ) with a girl (Emanuela Montanari). The lighting (by Michael Hulls) fragmented their bodies into approximations, and then became projections of large squares of light for them to dance through. Here Guillem showed what she was about, the extremities of her extremities blurring in quick motion, thrilling to see. So too, when dancing against Montanari it showed just why Guillem is justly celebrated. Though not outclassing her, she was indefinably the better dancer, more polished, invested, superior. Nearly fifty years of dancing helps, of course. I forgot to mention the awful soundtrack, which features yodelling, then electro yodelling to jungle beats from the mid 90s, as well as vulgar female heavy breathing.

The last piece was the strongest, Mats Ek’s Bye. A very large video projection/TV screen (we’re talking about eight feet tall) stands centre stage. On it, video Sylvie dances. Real Sylvie emerges behind it. This was consistently clever, but in places my interest sagged. Nevertheless the technical skill required was there for all to see, not least in timing to coincide video with real: e.g. Real Sylvie goes behind the screen hand first, but the hand and then her whole body appears on the video as she disappears behind it, as if she is digitizing herself. In places she stood on her head a bit, legs forming half a square in the air, which I thought was interesting, not merely for its yogic qualities, but in case there was any intimation of parturition (inversely given) or maybe she was playing at being a kid, which the promo material references, or was suggesting that her world will be turned upside down once she stops dancing. Or maybe Ek just wanted to have her do a yogic headstand. One presumes the people who crowd onto the screen at the end are her family or loved ones. Quite touching, I guess not least because of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 111 which forms the music to which she moves.

At the end a standing ovation, loud cheers, but not for the pieces – for Guillem – who looked genuinely moved.

* internet research tells me that these were Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watt.

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