Last week, ballet superstar Sylvie Guillem announced her retirement slated for 2015. She will conclude her 39-year career with a world tour—called Life in Progress—in which she will dance works by Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Mats Ek. This season is shaping up to be a tough one for ballet lovers—first Wendy Whelan and Carla Körbes announced their retirements, only to be followed by Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes. Alessandra Ferri’s distinguished return to the stage is a small comfort.
Guillem has always possessed ideal proportions and astonishing technical facility. Throughout her career, her inquisitiveness has pushed her to explore beyond the boundaries of classicism. She began at the Paris Opéra Ballet, where she flew through the ranks—Rudolf Nureyev promoted her to the highest rank of “etoile” when she was 19 years old. She originated a role in William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, cementing her abilities (and her notoriety) as both a contemporary and classical ballerina. In fact, her performance and physique in In the middle set the standard for the cool extremities of early contemporary ballet.
Guillem performed as a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet for ten years, and for the last decade of her career has focused exclusively on contemporary work. Guillem’s professional partnerships with choreographers like Ek have paved the way for ballerinas like Diana Vishneva and Wendy Whelan to cultivate their own contemporary projects.
There are many YouTube videos of Guillem, especially in contemporary work. We’re lucky that this once-in-a-generation ballerina is so well documented, so that she can continue to inspire dancers with her drive for both perfection and independence as an artist.