Sylvie Guillem's Swan Song Sombre Yet Spirited

Life In Progress ★★★★☆

Lise Smith
By Lise Smith Last edited 34 months ago
Sylvie Guillem's Swan Song Sombre Yet Spirited Life In Progress 4

Londonist rating: ★★★★☆

Having celebrated a highly unconventional career onstage, ballet icon turned contemporary dance muse Sylvie Guillem was hardly going to leave it in the normal fashion. Not for Sylvie a tiara-laden greatest hits gala; instead, the fiercely curious performer has chosen to commission new works from some of her closest collaborators in a somewhat muted farewell programme that's fascinating, provocative, and about as far from a traditional celebration as it's possible for a dance programme to be.

The evening opens with a new solo from Akram Khan, with whom Sylvie created Sacred Monsters in 2006. That work was a full-length duet in which the banter between the two performers was as much a pleasure as the liquid movement they shared; new solo technê is a much more abstract, primal work that features Guillem scuttling across the stage on crouching knees around a stainless steel tree. The dancer's body curves and twists to the sounds of vocalist Grace Savage's extraordinary live beatboxing; it's an intense piece in which the curiosity of both choreographer and dancer sears through, but oddly sombre.

Sombre too is Russell Maliphant's new duet on Guillem and Italian ballerina Emanuela Montanari, Here and After. Fans of Guillem's superlative interpretation of Maliphant's Two had a final opportunity to view this dynamic solo last summer; there are hints of this signature work in the new duet, with its consciously retro D&B soundtrack and Michael Hulls's animated boxes of light that seem to take on a life of their own. Montanari is a good physical match for Guillem, whose famously high extensions are still notably limber in the mid-section of the duet.

Guillem takes a short break during a short, highly physical duet for Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts created by William Forsythe, who memorably cast the ballerina in his In The Middle Somewhat Elevated. Mats Ek's Bye is as button-cute as ever and makes a fitting final farewell.

Life in Progress is in many ways a testimony to the stubborn spirit of the dancer who has already torn up so many of the rules of dance, from the boundaries of what was considered physically possible to the meek compliance expected of ballerinas and the norm of retiring in one's thirties. This programme celebrates that iconoclastic spirit, being resolutely uncelebratory in its approach. We have to admire that.

Life in Progress is at the London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4ES, until August 2015. Tickets £15-£15. Book here.

Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 20 August 2015