Saturday, 19 October 2013

Sylvie Guillem - Force of Nature

The Culture Show: Sylvie Guillem - Force of Nature - BBC2, 10pm, 9th October

Sylvie Guillem in Bye
Photo: Bill Cooper
This BBC Culture Show special explores one of the most famous international dancers of today, 48-year-old Sylvie Guillem. Renowned for her talent and especially her extreme flexibility, she was hand-picked by Rudolf Nureyev at the age of 19 to become the Paris Opera Ballet's youngest ever étoile.
 
Extremely outspoken, Guillem earned the nickname 'Mademoiselle Non' but she defends her artistic choices: "You have one life. If you spend it doing just what other people tell you to, it's not your life... I couldn't compromise. I never could do things that I didn't feel."
 
Guillem originally trained in gymnastics before discovering a love of dance. She took part in an exchange programme with the Paris Opera Ballet School and hated the training but loved performing onstage. "It triggered the rest. It was incredible. I knew something was there."
 
In 1989, she shocked the dance world by leaving Nureyev and Paris and joining the Royal Ballet in London. The company's director at the time, Anthony Dowell, describes: "I was thrilled that she was here but my suggestions were often met with a rather blunt 'non'." Nevertheless, Dowell was amazed by Guillem's physical capabilities. "With Sylvie, there were never any limitations... what you got onstage was worth it."
 
After a classical career with numerous international ballet companies, Guillem now continues dancing worldwide in more experimental contemporary dance works. "I am lucky to have a body that I don't have to force. I am strong enough and supple enough at the same time and haven't had a lot of injury. I feel good and I am 48. Maybe it's not normal, but I feel good."
 
She does, however, suffer with an intense fear of performing: "It's getting worse and worse. But once I am onstage, it's over... One day I was not afraid and I danced but I didn't have the pleasure. So I said, next time I'm not afraid, I won't go onstage."
Photo: Gilles Tapie

She lives in the Swiss mountains, enjoying the solitude and quietness of the countryside. "I don't have kids. I have dogs. It's hard enough to take care of yourself without having to raise kids on top of that, especially in the world we are living in."
 
While continuing to perform regularly, Guillem also has a passion for extreme environmentalism, supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, an organisation which uses direct action to protect marine life. Described as 'eco-terrorists' by some, Guillem views Sea Shepherd's approach as "less communication and more action. It's like me. You can't wait for things to get worse and worse."
 
So what is next for Mademoiselle Non? "Things have an end. A transition has to be made… but I have other things that I am interested in. I can’t just stop and cry all the tears in my body because I will stop dancing. I will use it as a springboard to go up again.”

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