Rearry (01). Sylvie Guillem in William Forsythe's 'Rearray'. Photo © Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem in William Forsythe’s ‘Rearray’.
Photo © Bill Cooper

National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan; April 13, 2014

David Mead

There are not many people on stage in Sylvie Guillem’s “6,000 miles away”. But what it does have is work by three genius choreographers that says much about the spirit of each and, of course, a very extraordinary dancer. And the other three performers are pretty top drawer too.

“Rearray” by William Forsythe is a series of brief solos and duets in which everything seems designed to confuse and surprise the audience: the sudden coming and going of classical positions, dancers striding abruptly, and the lighting suddenly going off, often in mid-phrase.

While the ballet is full of Forsythe quirkiness as he constantly subverts and reconstructs classical dance, it’s also lyrical in its own way. One moment fluid, the next sharp and angular, the mash of contemporary movement and gesture morphs seamlessly into beautifully poised classical poses and ports de bras before disappearing just as magically. Extensions are always exquisite, balances always perfect.

There may be no doubt who the audience had come to see, but Guillem’s partner, La Scala Ballet étoile Massimo Murru, who was equally graceful and elegant. Particularly interesting is one solo that sees him hold his arms behind his back as if shackled. When Guillem appears and releases him, the duet that follows seems to be a celebration of his freedom, and is one of the few moments in the ballet when the two dance as one.

It all fits like a glove with David Morrow’s music; an equally deconstructed mix of backward strings and detuned piano.

Top marks too for Forsythe and Rachel Shipp’s generally sparse lighting design, which when seen against the black of the wings and the backdrop gives the impression that everything is taking place in a vast void.

In a sense, Mats Ek’s “Bye” is a duet too, but here we seem to be watching Guillem dance with her memories.

She first appears on a door-shaped video screen that Ek uses to play with image and reality. Initially, we see only Guillem’s eye. It may be looking at us, but it’s also inviting us inside her mind. Eventually, she steps out, looking like a very ordinary, somewhat drab housewife in her mustard skirt, dowdy green cardigan that hangs from her shoulders and sensible shoes.

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's 'Bye'. Photo © Leslie Spinks

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s ‘Bye’.
Photo © Leslie Spinks

It’s not long, though, before shoes, socks and cardigan are discarded. Throwing them off, releases her. Guillem celebrates as she recalls her childhood. She skips, runs, jumps, even stands on her head. It’s, whimsical, mischievous, loving, and fun.

But who is the bald headed man who watches but who is ignored? A dog is ignored too. Later, and slowly, a crowd gathers. They never actually beckon her, but they slowly pull her back. She is inextricably drawn and eventually retreats behind the screen to join them; once more an anonymous figure in a crowd. Inside though, you just know the spirit is still burning bright.

Guillem says that “Bye” is “the way Mats sees me,” but it’s danced with such believability that it’s surely very close to the truth. It’s full of doubts and questions, and has moments of wistfulness, but it’s also packed with the joy or dancing. If there’s a message here, it’s that while age may take its toll on the body, the soul can remain young at heart.

Opening the show, Jiří Kylián’s “14’20””, the duet from 27’52”, danced by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak, proved to be a tasty starter. Perhaps it was the positioning on the respective programmes, but here it was rather more powerful than when danced on the same stage, by the same dancers, as part of the Kylworks programme just two months previously.

In typical Kylián style, while there clearly is plenty of underlying meaning here, exactly what we are watching is unclear. The piece focuses on the woman. Are we watching recollections of moments in her life? Is her partner real or imaginary? It’s certainly true that Cayla more often appeared to be looking into the space behind him rather than actually at him.

After a forecful start, Timulak lifts Cayla high and she strips off her red vest, leaving the pair identically dressed, identically topless. It can be read as an affirmation of her independence, or a statement that, ‘look, we are the same,’ or both. What follows is beautifully languid but packed with strength. Every movement, every twitch is razor-sharp and crystal clear. Eventually, Timulak retires to a ‘grave’ under the dance lino. After a brief moment of crisis in which she appears to despair at this very final disappearance, she finds her own resting place under the floor opposite. Quite, quite, beautiful.

But as good as Cayla and Timulak, and Murru, were, this was an afternoon about one person. It’s taken a while for former dancer, now teacher and ballet entrepreneur Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨) and her Artwave organisation to get Guillem to Taipei. “It’s not that I didn’t want to come, it’s just that the time wasn’t right,” says Guillem. But she was here now, and at the end the audience rose to acclaim her. ‘Come back soon’ seemed to be the overwhelming message.