Guillem bids farewell with Life In Progress

Sylvie Guillem in English choreographer Akram Khan’s techne, a new solo piece where she will be accompanied by live musicians and a singer.
Sylvie Guillem in English choreographer Akram Khan’s techne, a new solo piece where she will be accompanied by live musicians and a singer. PHOTO: BILL COOPER

It is a bittersweet moment for prima ballerina-turned-contemporary- dance-darling Sylvie Guillem.

After announcing her retirement from the dance scene in November last year, she has been performing her final show, Sylvie Guillem – Life In Progress, tirelessly since March, making endless curtain calls that markmanyfarewells.

She will be here on Oct 13 and 14 as part of Esplanade’s da:ns festival and she wraps up her world tour in Japan in December.

“Every place I go, it’s for the last time. It’s always special and emotional,” says Guillem in her French accented-English while speaking to Life from Paris, where she has just finished a round of performances.

“But I also don’t want to make it something depressing. I want to fully enjoy the moment.”

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Guillem, 50, has had an illustrious career spanning almost four decades, starting at the Paris Opera Ballet as a protege of Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev in the 1980s, before making her name by dancing with the world’s top companies, including London’s Royal Ballet and Tokyo Ballet.

The risk-taking dancer has flirted with contemporary choreography such as that of American dancerchoreographer William Forsythe in the 1980s, but left the classical ballet world for good in 2006 to become the principal artist of contemporary dance company, Sadler’s Wells in London.

That same year, she joined forces with fellow dance superstar, English choreographer Akram Khan, onstage in the wildly successful Sacred Monsters. She called the work a “personal moment” for her as it was the first time she talked on stage.

 
 
 

Explaining her career moves, she says: “I never had a goal – when the train was passing, I was jumping. I always worked by instinct and did whatseemed right to me.”

But with Life In Progress, she is not interested in looking back on her past glories. Instead, she wants to present a “new show with experience and creation”.

She says: “This is a life in progress, about trying to learn and experience life. It’s something more aboutmeandhowI’ve tried to live my life as an artist and as a woman.”

The show consists of four dance pieces by choreographers she respects and has worked with,including Forsythe and Khan. “They have been part of my travels,” she says.

Twoof the works are new, including Khan’s techne, a solo piece where Guillem will be accompanied by live musicians and a singer; and Here & After by British choreographer Russell Maliphant, a pas de deux with Italian dancer Emanuela Montanari from Milanese opera house La Scala.

Rounding up Life In Progress is the touching Bye by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, created for Guillem in 2011 for the show 6,000 MilesAway, a reference to the earthquake and tsunami experienced by Japan; and Forsythe’s Duo, where Guillem will leave the stage to make wayfor two male dancers.

When she finally does take that last curtain call, she says it will be hard not to be emotional, but she already has some semblance of what she might do to fill her spare time.

“Pottery, archery and taiji. I also want to try badminton,” she says, with excitement in her voice.

She also wants to dedicate more of her time to raising awareness for animal rights and the environment.

She is an ambassador for environmental group Sea Shepherd and seed foundation Association Kokopelli. The animal lover has two dogs and a cat in her home which she shares with her husband, photographer Gilles Tapie, in the Swiss mountains.

But can she turn her back completely on dance after so many years dedicated to the art form? Like her previous career decisions, she seems resolute.

She says: “I’m not someone who can stay seated for a long time. I will run with my dogs. I will move. But dancing like this? No.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Guillem bids farewell with Life In Progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe