Every year, a select few dancers join the Paris Opera Ballet. An even smaller percentage make world headlines like former étoile Sylvie Guillem, who joined the company in 1981 at age 16. Three years later, after winning gold at the Varna International Ballet Competition, then-director Rudolf Nureyev made her the youngest étoile in the company’s history. Her promise was as undeniable as her decisions were bold. In 1989, Guillem left POB to join the Royal Ballet as a principal guest artist, a move that allowed her to freelance with companies around the world.
Although Guillem was young when she began performing soloist and principal roles, her maturity and self-awareness translated beautifully into her performances. In this clip from the television documentary Sylvie Guillem at Work, her precise footwork and elegant upper body mirror the grace and sophistication of Raymonda’s Act III variation. I love how she dramatizes her movements by contrasting expansive port de bras with sharp arm gestures. Her piqués at 1:48 (besides being perfectly placed) are taken with just enough momentum to sustain her flowing balance before relinquishing it into a series of bourrées. After a demanding series of sissonnes and pirouettes, she completes the variation with a renewed sense of composure.
Sylvie Guillem commanded the stages of both the Palais Garnier and the Royal Opera House. Although she retired last December, she set a precedent for artistic freedom, leaving a lasting impact on the dance world. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!