Sylvie Guillem: At Work & Portrait.
At Work &
Great artists set an example, which is why Sylvie Guillem's dancing inspires other performers as much as it thrills the public. These two short films supply intriguing glimpses of the early stages of her career, when her personal charisma and phenomenal technique made her a star.
Produced for British television in 1993, Nigel Wattis' documentary Portrait begins dramatically, with Guillem's piercing gaze and needlelike leg sweeping over the back of a chair in Bejart's Sissi. The film moves on quickly, interleaving performance and rehearsal sequences with short interviews. The dance selections record her impressive range, from Swan Lake and Manon to an angular solo, Wet Woman, by Mats Ek. Various choreographers, Royal Ballet administrators, and English dance critics provide the comments, assessing her skill and temperament from their respective viewpoints.
Guillem herself speaks to the camera with appealing candor, cheerfully projecting both intelligence and dedication. "I'm not like this just because it's a gift," she points out. "I was lucky to have a gift ... but I worked a lot." More surprisingly, she admits, "Before a performance, the strongest feeling is to be afraid."
Regarding her presence in The Royal Ballet, the talking heads describe her independent attitude with polite disdain. Guillem claims, however, "Onstage ... I can express whatever I want. I won't be judged." And every step reveals thought as well as skill, devotion as well as will.
Andre S. Labarthe's pretentious At Work, filmed in 1987 before Guillem resigned from the Paris Opera Ballet, puts the young dancer at the service of the filmmaker, whose romantic observations and artsy camera angles obscure more than they illuminate. He focuses languorously on street scenes, empty corridors, and bandaged feet. He repeatedly blocks our vision, interposing bodies between us and the dancers or filming them from behind. Having gained rare access to the work they do privately, he wastes the privilege by drawing attention to his artistic choices instead of theirs.
However, while shadowing his subject for several weeks, Labarthe captured fragments of Raymonda, van Dantzig's Four Last Songs, Bejart's La Luna, and Nureyev's Cinderella. Best of all, we see Guillem with William Forsythe and the original cast of In the middle, somewhat elevated, first rehearsing, then in performance.
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