Spotlight Saturday: Sylvie Guillem

It's Spotlight Saturday, and today's star is French prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem.

Photoshoot, 1985

She was born in Paris on 25 February 1965. She studied gymnastics as a child, as her mother was a gymnastics teacher. In 1977, 11-year-old Guillem began studyinsg at the Paris Opera Ballet School. The then director, Claude Bessy, quickly noticed her potential, and at the age of 16 she joined the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera.

In Nureyev's 'Raymonda'

In 1983, she won the gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition. This earned her her first solo role later that year, dancing the Queen of the Dryads variation in Rudolf Nureyev's production of Don Quixote. After a successful performance in Nureyev's Swan Lake, she was named the Paris Opera Ballet's youngest-ever toile (highest-ranking female dancer) in December 1984.

As Kitri in 'Don Quixote'

In 1987, she performed the lead role in William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, partnered by Laurent Hilare. In 1988, to celebrate Nureyev's 50th birthday, the Royal Ballet invited Guillem to perform the lead role in Giselle. The performance was a great success, and a year later she left Paris for London, becoming a freelance performer and a principal guest artist for the Royal Ballet. She was known for wanting to work independently from a company, earning her the nickname 'Mademoiselle Non'.

Likely as Nikiya in Nureyev's 'La Bayadere'

She created a dance television program called Evidentia in 1995, which won several international awards. She staged her own version of Giselle in 1998 for the Finnish National Ballet, and restaged the production for La Scala Theatre in Milan in 2001. The same year, she became the first winner of the Nijinsky Prize for the world's best ballerina, though she criticised the 'supermarket culture' of such awards in her acceptance speech.

As Juliet in 'Romeo and Juliet'

She directed the central section of a Nureyev tribute program in 2003. She was criticised for her decision to have the dancers perform in front of a giant backdrop of Nureyev, which the audience found distracting. By 2006, she had moved from ballet to contemporary. She worked with Akram Kahn as an Associate Artist of the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London.

As Princess Aurora in 'The Sleeping Beauty'

Guillem began an international farewell tour in March 2015. The work was entitled Life in Progress, featuring works by Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Maks Ek, and William Forsythe. She gave her last performance in Japan on live television on 31 December 2015, dancing Maurice Bejart's Bolero.

As Odette in 'Swan Lake'

Here she is in Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, with Laurent Hilare:

In Grand Pas Classique:

And a beautiful mix of styles from an old documentary called Sylvie Guillam at Work (which I also found on VHS in my mother's ballet collection last week!): 'Wedding Variation' from Raymonda; in rehearsal; and an unnamed contemporary piece:

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Darcy Bussell.

- Selene

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