Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sylvie Guillem—an Etoile in our Midst

Sylvie Guillem is one of the iconic dance stars of our time who can command packed houses solo, no matter what she chooses to perform—in the tradition of Nureyev/Fontaine, Baryshnikov, and currently Diana Vishneva and Nina Ananiashvili, at least in New York. Guillem performed an evening called 6000 Miles Away at the Koch Theater last weekend, presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation and titled to allude to London's distance to last year's tsunami in Japan. She chose work that flattered her strengths, such as her jointless, alarmingly limber extensions (at 47 years of age) and St. Louis-arched feet. And yet the evening's sum total felt slightly perfunctory and distant.

Sylvie Guillem in Rearray. Photo: Bill Cooper
Guillem danced in two of the night’s three works. William Forsythe created the strongest of those two, Rearray, from 2011. While the choreographer has moved away from creating similar ballet-based dances and toward dance-theater for his own troupe, The Forsythe Company, he made an exception for Guillem, on whom he set In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. How could he not be lured to work with a dancer with such natural physical gifts? The series of duets contained his trademark spidery legwork mixed with proper posés, blackout scene changes, and a spacious soundscape by David Morrow. Guillem was partnered by Massimo Murru of La Scala, offering a warm, humorous counterbalance to the perpetual alabaster cool of Guillem, the étoile.

Mats Ek choreographed Bye (2011), the most theatrical of the dances, to Beethoven. Charming film elements (by Elias Benxon) were projected on a door-shaped panel that served as a portal and a mirror, or perhaps simply as a window onto the thoughts in Guillem's head. Wearing Katrin Brannstrom's plain, everywoman clothes, Guillem's face appeared large on film, and she emerged from behind the panel—morphed to flesh from film, to color from black and white. The effect was sentimental and introspective.

The middle dance, 27'52" (2002), was choreographed by Jiri Kylian and performed by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak, to music by Dirk Haubrich after Mahler. Kylian's signatures were ample—flexed feet, a hotplate flicking of extremities. Cayla removed her top for reasons unclear, and both tucked themselves under flaps of floor covering. Kees Tjebbes designed the effective, clear lighting, featuring an array of downspots. In an evening dedicated to Guillem, the dance's merits fell short merely by her exclusion.

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