Sylvie Guillem is one of my heroes; a brilliant ballet dancer with seemingly elastic legs who these days excels in contemporary dance. To me, she is dance.
The chance to see her perform in the flesh as opposed to countless YouTube videos understandably filled me with a giddy glee. That chance arose last weekend. Guillem was performing at Sadler’s Wells in a triple-bill called 6,000 miles away.
The name 6,000 miles away is a bow to the people of Japan who were hit by the tsunami in 2011 while Guillem was working on the piece in London.
However, there was another reason for the name. Sarah Crompton, arts editor and dance critic of the Daily Telegraph, said: “-it sums up her [Guillem’s] belief that you do not have to be physically near someone to admire and like them. This evening is also a tribute to the ties that bind people of like minds.”
I’ve split the review into three parts, one for each piece, in order to do each justice while not prompting a scrolling spree for the reader.
The first piece of the evening, 27’52”, the name reflecting the length of the piece in minutes and seconds, was choreographed by Jiří Kylián. Former artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater and founder of Nederland Dans Theater II, Kylián has received many awards and titles, including the prestigious Commander of the Legion d’honneur from the French government, and the Medal of the Order of the House of Orange from the Netherlands.
The piece was an enthralling opening for the evening. The music, a new composition by Dirk Haubrich, created an eerie sense of unease. Early on in the piece, the voices of people speaking in various different languages slows to a drawl then speeds up as the choreography perfectly matches the changing tempo. The two dancers, Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak, showed immense skill and artistry as they weaved across the stage in a game of push and pull. The choreography was at times jagged and staccato, at times soft and flowing, and suggested a sense of something not quite right in their relationship.
At one point, Cayla lying with her bare back to the audience whilst Timulak seems caught in his own self-absorbing dance downstage, I sensed her vulnerability, and wondered if there was an undercurrent of something more sinister in their relationship. When he returned to her and lead her around she seemed almost reluctant, but after pulling away she would return to him, as if the desire to be free of him could not override the need for his affection.
The ending of the piece, as Timulak disappeared under a black sheet, which was cleverly disguised as part of the stage floor, left me with a great sadness. While he seemed resigned to his fate (death?), Cayla looked confused and tried to find a way out of this fate. But as a third dancer entered the space to hold up the other end of the sheet for her, she solemnly accepted that she too must be enveloped in the darkness.
As the lights came up and the dancers were met with applause, I tried to shake off the sadness that had settled on me. It was mixed with a sense of awe and appreciation of such gifted dancers and such thoughtful and touching choreography.