The guile and pathos of Guillem’s Manon: Sylvie Guillem’s triumphant return to La Scala

After concentrating on contemporary dance, and mostly new works, since leaving  the Kitris and Odettes with which she made her name, has made a surprise return to the full-length narrative ballet with one of her most celebrated roles. After having not worn pointe shoes for almost a year the decision was certainly something of a gamble. In the original programming she was to alternate the role of with – “the new Guillem”: could it have been a personal challenge, a desire to remind audiences who the real Guillem is?

With or without Zakharova, there was tension in the house as fans waited to see how she could match up to the hardest confrontation of all, that of herself in the same role in , six years ago. Then she was partenered, as now, by and with a surprising début from as Monsieur GM. The applause was deafening.

There was no reason to be apprehensive: Guillem has returned better than ever. Maybe her contemporary dancing has given her new perspectives, maybe a break from this repertoire has given her fresh insights: whatever, we’re grateful that she has given us these memorising and memorable performances at .

Guillem controls every inch of her body, from her eyes to her toes. Nothing is casual, each movement has a purpose. With such a wide range of emotions to play with, Manon is a gift to a dancer capable of extracting all the possibilities of the character and communicating each nuance to her audience. Guillem is one of those dancers.

It is not her wonderful feet, or her elegant line, or her hazardous leaps that have the greatest effect, but her ability to play with dynamics and her momentary suspensions, the qualities which can be expressed only when all the rest is firmly under control. This was a lesson in dancing from a dancer’s dancer (and there were quite a few famous colleagues among the audience), a woman at the top of her craft who can combine artistic maturity with a technique still capable of expressing her wishes. This is rare. We were lucky.


  1. Nakis says

    I was at La Scala for the première of “L’histoire de Manon” with Sylvie Guillem and it was in every sense of the word an unforgettable experience. Even while entering the prestigious theatre of La Scala one was aware that this was a very special event indeed. Was I apprehensive too? Yes, with no doubt. I was scared to death. Adoring Sylvie like I do, still I was wondering. Would she be able to pull it off? I had already seen Sylvie in her incomparable Manon three times before this performance, the first being in 1998 for her triumphant return at the Paris Opera at the Palais Garnier where she portrayed the part with the marvellous Laurent Hilaire.

    But from the moment she entered the stage magic worked like a miracle and my fears were gone. I have never seen or heard an audience welcoming a performer on stage like they did at La Scala for Sylvie’s entrance with such thunderous applause. Everyone was thrilled to see her again on stage, especially in this wonderful ballet, one of her signature roles. Her dancing was divine but what really impresses always is how fluid and natural it all seems. Every single movement seems to occupy the entire space of the stage, every single extension is part of the dramatic characterisation of the part of Manon. Guillem a dancer of genius has only deepened her characterisation of Manon over the years. And she is such a great actress-dancer. Every single expression of her face, her hands, everything tells us something about Manon’s free and naive nature, her inner conflicts, her desire to be loved by De Grieux but also unable to resist the temptations of a luxury life.

    During the brothel scene she danced her solo (I believe it is called Manon’s variation) and you could feel that no one was breathing in the audience. Everyone was suspended at her movements, her seduction, her charm. And at the end someone cried from the audience “Divina!” and everyone burst into applause. A wonderful, unforgettable moment. Her death scene will certainly remain one of the greatest moments in dance, a heartbreaking, magnificent moment of desperation and virtuoso dancing which seems to be caught in a moment of eternity. Sylvie’s partner was the wonderful Massimo Murru from the Scala. A wonderful, true magic couple. The evening was a great triumph, everyone rose to his feet and applauded like mad and Sylvie was the Divina of that night. At the stage door there was such a crowd waiting to see her, to take her photograph and sign autographs and Sylvie was truly happy to have this warm contact with her audience again. When I told her that it was such a wonderful magical experience to see her again as Manon, even more so at La Scala, such a mythical, prestigious theatre she smiled and said maliciously and charmingly (Oui c’est mon théâtre), “Oh yes it is my theatre”. She is right. One could feel that she was indeed at home that night. The triumphant return of an artist of genius to a legendary part, in a mythical theatre. Merci Sylvie.

    • gramilano says

      This is the best comment on a blog I have ever read. What a marvellous review. Thank you.

      She really was magical wasn’t she, so she deserves all your words. Unforgettable evenings (there is the third and last tomorrow) which La Scala and its public need. Thank you Mlle Non for saying “Oui”!

  2. Nakis says

    Thank you so much for your kind words. Your review was simply marvellous and made me live the unforgettable evening all over again. Did you attend the première on January 27th or was it the Saturday 29th of January performance (or both?)? If I could I would have stayed and watch all three performances of Sylvie but unfortunately since I live in France I had to leave. But what an indelible, unforgettable experience. You are right. We are all eternally grateful that “Mademoiselle Non” said “oui” this time for La Scala and Manon.

    • gramilano says

      I was at the Saturday performance as I was out of Milan for the 27th, and cannot go tonight for her third and last Manon, alas! Brava Sylvie!


    its very really nice and succesfull to enjoy that, thak you for the information, rgs Mr ulises pacheco sanchez

    • gramilano says

      Another crit that I’ve only just seen: Debra Craine in The Times:
      “Guillem’s flawed heroine is a creature of effortless glamour who doesn’t need fur or a diamond necklace to exude chic sophistication. In the bedroom she is alive with the glow of intense romantic attraction, but how quickly she turns cold and calculating at the prospect of Monsieur G. M.’s more materialistic attractions. As for her dancing, every shape that Guillem made with the choreography was supremely elegant and exquisitely judged. Until the end, when close to death in the Louisiana swamps, she etched the physical luxury of her dancing with a profound despair. When death came, suddenly, sharply, you shared with Des Grieux the pain of such beauty extinguished.”
      And finishes with:
      “A night to remember all round.”

  4. Nakis says

    Debra Craine is right “A night to remember all round”. She has followed Guillem’s career for years and her views are always intelligent and sensitive. I was glad to see that British critics went to La Scala to cover this exceptionnal and extraordinary event.
    I was wondering though where were the French? Through all these years Sylvie is dancing abroad, scoring great triumphs very rarely have I seen her native France send a journalist to cover an event with Sylvie. A shame.
    I was wondering also if you have any echos about the other couple of performers Olesia Novikova who I believe made her debut in La Scala with Roberto Bolle.

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