Return of the great Guillem

Push, with Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, November 24. Dance lovers at Snape Maltings were in for a treat last weekend as the queen of contemporary ballet, Sylvie Guillem, partnered with award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant, took to the stage with four stunning pieces.

Push, with Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, November 24.

Dance lovers at Snape Maltings were in for a treat last weekend as the queen of contemporary ballet, Sylvie Guillem, partnered with award-winning choreographer Russell Maliphant, took to the stage with four stunning pieces.

Russell Maliphant's work has won both Olivier and South Bank Show Awards, and watching his carefully controlled performances, with Tai Chi-inspired precision added to supreme strength, it was clear why.

His solo, Shift, was one of the most imaginative and spell-binding dances I have ever seen; this was largely due to the wonderful collaboration with lighting designer Michael Hulls, who, with clever use of stream-lined spot lights, created a brown and cream 'canvas' of light as a backdrop, divided into six vertical section in which shadows of Maliphant were cast depending on where he stood. It was so ingenious: at first Maliphant was alone on stage, then he moved gradually and gracefully through yoga-style movements until a huge shadow of himself appeared in one of the segments; a few moves to the side and now two shadows appeared on opposite sides of the stage. At times it was like watching a perfectly timed trio. I also found myself watching the shadows more than I did Maliphant, so intriguing was it to see the shifts between one segment and the next.

Maliphant had choreographed all four dances, two of which were solos for Guillem.

Her first piece, Solo, saw Guillem dressed in white, floaty trousers and top, through which the overhead lighting shone to create an ethereal feel. She was part contemporary dancer, part flamenco dancer, as her graceful, sinuous movements were accented by sharp, staccato flicks and kicks to complement the strong, Spanish guitar music of Carlos Montoya. The lighting, again by Michael Hulls, began as a single orange spot, growing to nine, then to three, changing the size of her performance space. The most dramatic moment was when all the lights suddenly went up only this time blue, with Guillem centre stage, poised ready to dance the second four-minute section.

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Finishing the first half was Two. Despite the name, this was a solo for Guillem; again lit from above by a single, very focused spotlight, which sculpted her arms, head and back as they twisted and turned to the lone echo sounder of a submarine.

As the booming beats of the music kicked in, Sylvie's arms, shoulders and now legs moved faster and faster, while still contained in her circle of light. As she reached out from her centre spot, her hands and feet turned to gold from the intensity of the light around her. Toward the end it was like watching a human Catherine wheel, so fast and on fire were her limbs. Truly amazing and original.

In the final piece, the duet Push, Guillem appearing to be as light as a feather as she rolled and cascaded over Maliphant, who lifted her into the air and onto his shoulders with complete ease. This was pure sensual movement for the whole 32 minutes. The lighting played less of a part than in the other three pieces, as this time the focus was just on the dancers, although there were moments early on when the stage descended into darkness only to light up and show the pair in a completely different position.

Sylvie's sculpted, flexible body was a sight to behold - her feet, so arched, must be the envy of dancers everywhere - and was a contrast to the more earthy, grounded strength of Maliphant.

A truly joyous evening where dance, lighting and music all gelled to create perfection.

Katy Evans

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