Ballet News Previews | Sylvie Guillem – Force of Nature
Sylvie Guillem – Force of Nature highlights Guillem straightforwardly. With exclusive access over several months, The Culture Show sent their presenter (Clemency-Burton Hill) to Guillem’s home in the Swiss mountains, to Senegal where Guillem is involved with an environmental group, and to Sadlers Wells in London where Guillem rehearses and performs.
At 48 years old, Guillem has never had any illusions about her life in dance being finite. She says, characteristically matter-of-fact, “I did it the way I wanted for all those years.” Guillem does not flinch from facts, “to face things directly , sometimes is much better than to put your head in the sand.”
Guillem had wanted to be a gymnast until an exchange year led to her experiencing ballet. She hated the discipline of ballet and thought that gym was “more fun.” It was only during the performance at the end of the year that she understood its appeal, and from then on she knew that ballet was for her.
Guillem says, “I never go on stage without having done everything I could to present it the best I could.” This work ethic earned her a promotion to Etoile at the Paris Opera Ballet aged 19. Rudolf Nureyev took her under his wing and Guillem says of his attitude towards nurturing young dancers that he always knew exactly the right time, “when you are motivated, when your wings are big, that you have to go on stage.” Working with such a big star as Nureyev, someone older, whom she describes as shy and poor at communicating (and then goes on to describe the same personality traits in herself) she says, “it was quite explosive when we didn’t agree.”
The documentary is peppered with performance clips – from Push in 2009, Akram Khan’s Sacred Monsters, Cinderella in 1987 and Manon in 2005. Khan describes working with Guillem and her endless quest for perfection and says that “in order to love something, you have to question it.”
Guillem left the Paris Opera Ballet in 1989 – something she describes as unusual – because she felt constrained by the need to seek permission every time she wanted to perform outside the company. She joined The Royal Ballet as a Principal Guest Artist and during that time her philosophy on living her life, not anyone else’s, in her particular way, brought her into conflict with management who found her direct approach at odds with their more reserved style, though Anthony Dowell concedes that whatever it took for her to be on stage was worth it. If she was offered something that she didn’t want to do, she said no, and rationalises it thus : “I can’t feel happy with compromise. I never would do things that I didn’t feel.” Jonathan Cope, at the time a Principal at The Royal Ballet, who partnered Guillem in ballets such as Manon, says, “she had that ability to lift her legs very high. She was probably the first to be so extreme. Sylvie was more intense than other partners because of her commitment.” Guillem says simply, “it’s really personal.”
Guillem is filmed at home in the Swiss mountains, with her dog, where she offers, ” I didn’t especially want kids. No problem.” As her dance career comes to its inevitable conclusion, following several years in contemporary dance, Guillem lends her support and passion to an environmental organisation described as controversial. Guillem says “it’s less communication. It’s more action. It’s more me,” and heads to Senegal to see for herself what needs to be done to counter illegal fishing. Guillem uses her show 6000 Miles to highlight this organisation as she transitions into a different life.
If you’ve followed Guillem’s career then there is nothing new here, but as she rarely gives interviews, it is a special opportunity to experience her work ethic, her frankness and her very deliberate unflinching attitude to life, which could be seen as inspirational.
Wednesday 9th October 2013
BBC Two except Northern Ireland
Duration: 29 minutes