News: Sylvie Guillem announces final curtain call

Tuesday 4 November 2014 by Carmel Smith

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's 'Bye'

After an unequalled careeer in ballet and contemporary dance, world renowned Sylvie Guillem has announced that she will be retiring from the stage next year (she celebrates her fiftieth birthday in February), after one final dance programme.

Life in Progress will tour internationally in 2015 starting with the world premiere in Modena on 31 March and end with final performances in Tokyo in December. The London performances will be at Sadler’s Wells, where she has been an Associate Artist since 2006, from 26 – 31 May. Tickets go on sale at 9am next Monday, 10 November.

The programme will contain a mix of older favourites – Mats Ek’s poignant solo, Bye , [see video below] made especially for her and performed previously as part of the 6000 miles away programme and William Forsythe’s Duo performed by two male dancers, which premiered in 1996 – alongside new works by frequent collaborators at Sadler’s Wells, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan.

In a statement Sylvie Guillem said:

“It was with a totally uncontrolled skid that I ‘performed’ my first bow 39 years ago… At Paris Opera Ballet School, all students (nicknamed ‘little rats’) were made to bow to all professional dancers and teachers as a mark of respect.
The dancers always seemed so solemn and aloof and whenever we were in a hurry, they always seemed to appear out of nowhere, causing us to come to a skidding halt to take our bows. The very old floor, waxed and made slippery by skids from previous generations, made this task relatively dangerous.
At full speed, we tried to hold, for at least half a second, the ‘bow’: a genuflexion with arms stretched downwards in V shape, palms down, back foot pointed behind the supporting leg. And this done, off we went, ‘trotting’ to the next class. These wobbling marks of respect were far from gracious, but for us it was a ‘Mission accomplished’!
After 39 years of practice, I have decided to take my final bow. Next year, 2015, will be my last world tour as a dancer, with a brand new production to say goodbye with gratitude and a great deal of emotion. I will present new works by Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, and existing pieces by Mats Ek and William Forsythe.
I have loved every moment of the last 39 years, and today, I am still loving it in the same way. So why stop? Very simply, because I want to end while I am still happy doing what I do with pride and passion.
Also… I have a friend, a sleeper agent, to whom I gave a ‘licence to kill’ in case I tried to continue longer than I should! And frankly, I’d like to spare him this task.
I started by skidding to a halt, I have been on an exhilarating journey, and now I’m about to change direction. This is a Life in Progress.
My Life.”

Born in Paris, Sylvie Guilem originally trained as a gymnast, before joining the Paris Opera Ballet School aged 11. Aged 16 she was accepted into the company and at 19 was made an étoile by Rudolf Nureyev**. He introduced her to the Royal Ballet, where she was a Principal Guest Artist from1988–2007, dancing in ballets by Kenneth MacMillan, Maurice Béjart, Frederick Ashton, William Forsythe and Mats Ek. She has always had an interest in contemporary dance and a collaboration in 2003, in which she danced with Balletboyz Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt in Broken Fall – a Royal Ballet commission by choreographer Russell Maliphant was the start of a new era in her career, featuring further work with Maliphant (they gave the last London performances of the award winning programme PUSH this summer) and other contemporary choreographers, including Akram Khan (their Sacred Monsters is at Sadler’s Wells later this month).

Sylvie Guillem’s Life in Pictures Guardian, 4 November
Sylvie Guillem: the greatest female dancer I have ever seen – Sarah Crompton in the Telegraph, 4 November
The supreme mover with a curious mind Judith Mackrell, Guardian, 4 November

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