Sylvie Guillem with Emanuela Montanari in Russell Maliphant's Here & After. Photo Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem with Emanuela Montanari in Russell Maliphant’s Here & After
Photo Bill Cooper

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; May 27, 2015

David Mead

“Leave the people wanting more,” they say. Sylvie Guillem is certainly doing that.

It helps when your farewell tour programme is jam packed with superb choreography that not only shows you at your best, as you are now, but contains lots of little memory joggers of times past. A Life in Progress is just that.

Of the new works, the undoubted highlight is Russell Maliphant’s Here & After, a duet for Guillem and the equally excellent Emanuela Montanari, a soloist with the ballet company of La Scala in Milan. Perhaps that not a surprise for there has long been a special connection and understanding between Maliphant and Guillem; muses for each other.

Here & After is a continuation of the ideas explored by Maliphant in Two. With its elegant extensions, lines and lightness, it’s easy on the eye and aesthetically as pleasing as anything you are likely to see. The opening especially is remarkably beautiful. It appears as if the dancers’ bodies have been painted with strange patterns as they constantly twist and curve, turn, undulate and intertwine in Michael Hulls’ circle of basket weave lighting no more than four metres across.

As the lit area expands, so does the dance, but Maliphant’s essential movement qualities are still all there, notably the softness, smoothness and the grand sweeps of the limbs arcing through the space with grace and strength in equal measure.

technê. Photo Bill Cooper

Photo Bill Cooper

Opening the programme, technê (from the Greek meaning the human ability to make and perform) by Akram Khan, has a mystical, otherworldly feel. As an opener, it holds the attention well, although never quite takes off as one feels perhaps it should.

A silver tree, whose branches seem increasingly to reflect Guillem’s limbs sits centre stage in the middle of a pond of light that reveals itself as what looks like the moon. Guillem first circles round it, then buzzes across it low to the ground like a water strider, pond skater or some suchlike insect. Later, as the piece slowly builds and the dance becomes more expansive, there are flashes of her former ballet brilliance. But it’s not the big things that you notice. The eyes keep coming back to the little points of detail, and especially her hands and wrists, where the clarity of the complex choreography is remarkable.

The whole is enhanced enormously by Alies Sluiter’s contemporary Eastern sounding score, played live by the excellent Prathap Ramachandra on percussion, Grace Savage on beatbox and Sluiter herself on violin, voice
and laptop.

Between the Khan and Maliphant, and giving Guillem a much needed breather, is an old William Forsythe piece, Duo, danced here by Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts of The Forsythe Company. Performed largely in silence with just a whisper of distant music creeping in occasionally the pair frequently echo each other, sometimes the dance being perfectly synchronous, but at other times a distorted reflection; the same but different and different but the same. It is quite spellbinding, like watching music made on the body (as well as hearing it occasionally too).

Sylvie Guillem in Bye. Photo Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem in Bye
Photo Bill Cooper

Can there be a more fitting title for the last piece of the programme than Bye? It felt full of emotion when it was first danced in 2011, but now it has an extra poignancy.

The sense of looking back, of memories, runs deep. Having emerged from behind a video screen, Guillem looks for all the world like just another person. She seems unsure. The dance is quirky and eccentric, gawky even. But a sense of fun soon starts to emerge, especially after she dispenses with her cardigan, shoes and socks. She’s a grown woman, but deep inside still a child at heart. But when other turn up, stand and watch (on film) it’s like her secret has been found out. And, silently they call her back.

When it comes, the end is remarkably low-key. She disappears behind the screen to join the others. There’s one last look, before turning and walking away, an ordinary person again. Only she’s not, and you could feel a tidal wave of emotion sweep through the auditorium. Then there was a moment’s silence, and a roar.

And, of course, it isn’t quite “Bye” either, not yet at least. There are still a host of home and overseas performances to come before that final, final bow takes place in Tokyo on December 20. And although this week at Sadler’s Wells sold out a long time ago, British audiences still have a chance to see this genius of a dancer. Tickets are still available for her remaining UK shows at the London Coliseum (July 28-August 2), Edinburgh Festival (August 8-10), and Birmingham Hippodrome (September 8-9). One tip: to appreciate fully the lighting in technê and Here & There, sit above the level of the stage.

For a full list of international tour dates announced to date, click here.