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Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress

Sylvie Guillem - Life in Progress, Sadler's Wells. Photo: Bill Cooper Sylvie Guillem - Life in Progress, Sadler's Wells. Photo: Bill Cooper
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We are going to miss her. As Sylvie Guillem embarks on the last performances of her remarkable career, it is clear that she is going out with more bang than whimper. Of the four pieces in the programme, two are UK premieres – Akram Khan’s techne and Russell Maliphant’s Here and After.

The first sees Guillem in metamorphosis mode, scuttling like an insect around a silver wire tree before stretching to imitate and finally dance with her aboreal partner. Moonlit and magical, it includes elements of mime and flamenco flutter in her hands and expressive arms.

Maliphant’s piece extends his groundbreaking work Two by opening up the cage of light and setting the two dancers (Guillem and Montanari) free to explore the golden grid that lighting genius Michael Hulls constructs across the stage.

The slatted light on the dancers’ bodies as they interweave sinuously is a vision of pure sensuousness; the rapture of liberty that follows is fleet and fast – with the two dancers shadowing each other’s movements and spinning off into their own vertiginous patterns.

Mats Ek’s Bye, created for Guillem in 2011, takes on an additional poignancy four years on. Like a refugee from a Samuel Beckett play, she emerges from behind a screen in a yellow dress and cardigan, dancing around as if unobserved in a kind of farewell to herself.

This is the silent comedy of Chaplin and Keaton filtered through the gauze of dance and delivered with wit and virtuosity. As Guillem returns to the ‘real’ world on the screen to be lost in the crowd there is an unavoidable lump in the throat that not even the appearance of a friendly, well-upholstered dog can disperse.

Compared with these, William Forsythe’s duet for two men seems like an ephemeral exercise designed simply to pad the evening out.

Farewell, Sylvie. The dance world will be a poorer place without you.

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In her final performances, Sylvie Guillem demonstrates the unique talent that has made her the most exciting dancer on the planet