London Coliseum, London, UK; July 29, 2014

David Mead

Sylvie Guillem and Russel Maliphant in Push.  Photo © Johan Persson

Sylvie Guillem and Russel Maliphant in Push.
Photo © Johan Persson

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant’s “Push” may have been around since 2005, but it continues to wow audiences. You could have heard a pin drop during any one of the four pieces on the programme. That’s hardly surprising given the very special things that happen when the two of them come together, either as dancer and choreographer, or as a dancing couple. Both have a special intensity on stage, and both are willing to explore and push boundaries. There seems to be a natural empathy between them. And perhaps more than anything else, that’s what makes “Push”, even after nine years, still a very special evening indeed.

“Push”, the duet after which the whole evening is named, and that completes the programme, brings the two together for thirty minutes of utterly transfixing dance. Maliphant and Guillem are completely in tune with each other. It is one long caress. She rolls and slides with magnificent grace as she is supported and carried by him. They make it look so easy. Although she always appears almost feather light as she wraps herself around his earthbound body, there is clearly a lot of strength involved too – from both of them. Guillem may be the star attraction, but this is a perfect and equal partnership with two dancers in total harmony. Throughout, their sensuous connections are accented by the Michael Hull’s lighting and Andy Cowton’s score.

“Solo”, the first of two solos for Guillem, sees her dressed in white, bathed in a pool of light that comes from a group of low slung spotlights. She is elegant and fiery as she responds to Carlos Montoya’s flamenco rhythms with a combination of sudden accents and classical grace, making full use of her amazing flexibility, and capturing fully the energy and feeling of the music.

“Two” has been reimagined as a duet and trio. Here, back in its original (and best) solo form, it takes place entirely within a small square of light, which not only draws you in, but highlights even the smallest movement. Guillem first explores it slowly, the dance then slowly and gradually increasing in speed and intensity. By the end, her arms and legs become whirling blurs, the light catching them for just a split second as they carve through the space. What really caught my eye, though, was her use of her wrists. Their constant circling, furling and unfurling was beautiful.

Sandwiched between these is “Shift,” a Maliphant solo from 1996. In contrast to “Solo”, which it follows, the tai-chi influenced “Shift” is all elegant restraint. In the sense that there’s only Maliphant on stage, it’s a solo. Only it’s not, because Hulls’ again clever lighting provides him with up to three shadows to dance with that appear and disappear on the backdrop as he moves around the stage. Just as Guillem does, he responds so intelligently to the lighting and Shirley Thompson’s melancholic score, although you sometimes find yourself watching those virtual partners even more than you’re watching him.

It’s been announced that this short season at the Coliseum is the last chance London audiences will get to see the “Push” programme. Don’t miss it.