6,000 miles away part 3: Bye

Photo: Bill Cooper

Photo: Bill Cooper

The piece we had admittedly all been waiting for, Guillem’s solo Bye, arrived at last. Choreographed by Mats Ek and set to Beethoven’s last piano sonata, the piece was a delight to watch.

Mats Ek is not only a choreographer, but has also staged productions of various plays in his native Sweden. A former stage director and ballet dancer, he has become a guest choreographer for many of the leading companies in the world. His style is known for conveying the feelings and emotions behind a storyline rather than just the narrative itself.

This style is beautifully apparent in Bye. The choreography bounced from flowing arms and legs to clunky child-like movements, channeling joy mixed with discovery. Guillem’s exuberance and energy filled the stage as she leapt and bounded about, belying her 48 years. This looked like a woman rediscovering freedom, breaking free from the confines of her daily life and revisiting that childlike joy of dancing just for the sheer pleasure of it.

As first the cardigan and then the shoes and socks were removed, I sensed the carefree abandonment of youth, like when you strip off your socks and skip across the slippery stones to paddle in the icy cold river, knowing you’re late for dinner and will surely get a telling off, but just wanting to feel the water run between your toes.

The staging of the piece included a screen the size of a doorway, on which we were first met with Guillem’s eye looking around at us all before the face pulled back. The projected video footage showed Guillem trying to figure her way out to us, a human leg unfolding from around the side as the film Guillem stuck a leg out beyond the parameters of the screen. This use of film in harmony with the physical, tangible dancer delighted the audience.

The ending of the solo saw Guillem put back on the cardigan, socks and shoes and return to the world of the screen, where a curious crowd had by now gathered to watch her dancing antics. As she returned from whence she came, the people seemed accepting and the crowd dispersed as they presumably went back to their daily business. It conjured in my mind images of village life, where everyone knows your business and leaping through the fields would most definitely draw a crowd. Once returned to the flock and what is considered as ‘normal’ behaviour, the interest wanes and you return to routine… until the next time you venture out without your shoes and socks on!

6,000 miles away part 2: Rearray

The second piece of the evening, Rearray, was choreographed by the internationally renowned choreographer William Forsythe. A former dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, Forsythe was director of Ballet Frankfurt for 20 years before founding The Forsythe Company. He is an Honorary Fellow at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, holds an Honorary Doctorate from Juilliard, and has pioneered new approaches to dance documentation, education and research.

Photo: Bill Cooper

Photo: Bill Cooper

Despite the brilliant Sylvie Guillem dancing in this piece, I have to say it was my least favourite of the three. The music, by David Morrow, was discordant and jarring and made me feel strangely uncomfortable. There was one particular note whose high pitch physically hurt my ears, and brewed within me a sense of violence that put me on edge and filled my muscles with the urge to lash out. That said, a friend sitting next to me enjoyed the piece, and said he could detect a pattern within the music so the discord no longer seemed apparent.

I can see how the music set the mood for the choreography, which was brilliant. Massimo Murro partnered Guillem with strength and grace, the two dancers complementing each other in their physicality and lean, flowing arms and legs. I got a feeling of a disjointed relationship, of two people not quite on the same page – perhaps wanting to be, and at times achieving this with beautiful moments of harmonious choreography, two bodies reaching an elegant symmetry, but then falling away to their individual rhythms.

The choreography was firmly rooted in a classical training, but at parts it would veer off to something more abstract than I was accustomed to, which really opened by eyes to the artistic possibilities of contemporary dance. A stalwart of classical ballet, it could be said my preferences are a bit tame!

6,000 miles away part 1: 27’52”

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.

6,000 miles away programme

6,000 miles away programme

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.