After concentrating on contemporary dance, and mostly new works, since leaving the Kitris and Odettes with which she made her name, Sylvie Guillem 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 Manon with Svetlana Zakharova — “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 Milan, six years ago. Then she was partenered, as now, by Massimo Murru and with a surprising début from Anthony Dowell 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 La Scala.
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.