Ballet Stars

#TBT: Sylvie Guillem Double Header

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's Bye. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy New York City Center.

Sylvie Guillem once said, “I have a lucky physique." Lucky is an understatement; my adjective of choice would be “perfect." As the Paris Opéra Ballet's youngest ever étoile, Guillem effaced previous technical standards with one whack of her leg in William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated, which he choreographed for her and fellow POB étoile Laurent Hilaire in 1987. Nearly three decades later, we could call the work a classic, but my awe renews with each viewing. There's plenty of stunning film footage of the two in the piece, but I like this clip for its close-ups. From a distance, the ease with which Guillem raises her legs to her ears almost seems like apathy. But here, as the camera zooms in on her kohl-rimmed eyes and silky smirks, we can see her intensity burning through. Guillem's precision is both steely and lyrical, her connection with Hilaire both cool and sensual—her command in the role still unparalleled.


Guillem may have revolutionized contemporary ballet, but she's equally eminent in classical works. From 1988 to 2007, she was a principal guest artist at The Royal Ballet, which allowed her to delve into narrative roles—Manon, Cinderella, Juliet, Giselle, to name a few—while also touring the world as a freelance artist. This 1996 clip of Grand Pas Classique shows her stunning technique (those balances!)—not to mention her characteristic sauciness and chic. Who else can get away with a bob haircut and a tutu?

Guillem retired from the stage in 2015 after a final nine-month world tour including works by Akram Khan, Forsythe and Mats Ek. She may have bowed out of the spotlight, but not out of our hearts. Happy #Throwback Thursday!

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