Choreography by William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Jiri Kylian. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, March 8
MATS Ek’s Bye is the crowd-pleasing work in this rich, concentrated evening of dance but William Forsythe’s Rearray is where the real nourishment is. Forsythe and Sylvie Guillem go way back – nearly a quarter of a century – and his understanding of her unique gifts runs deep. The outstanding physical qualities are still in thrilling shape despite Guillem now being closer (much closer) to 50 than 40. Her plasticity is extraordinary, the limbs long and ultra-refined, the arch of her foot dramatic in its intensity, her line and placement exquisite. But despite their luxurious quality, these things are merely the tools at Guillem’s disposal. In recent years Guillem has taken an adventurous approach to her work, and her celebrity is such that audiences will go where she goes.
Rearray was made on Guillem and one of her regular partners, Paris Opera Ballet’s Nicolas Le Riche: classical ballet royalty, in other words. Le Riche has been injured of late and for that reason wasn’t seen in the recent POB season of Giselle in Sydney. For this tour of 6000 miles away Guillem appears with another of her (few) frequent partners, Massimo Murru of La Scala.
Rearray is something of a love letter to classical dance in that it persistently returns to ballet steps and positions while removing them entirely from a conventional ballet setting. There are gorgeous ports de bras, sharp beaten steps, creamy pirouettes, a frequent stop in an open fourth position and so on, but they are seen in a dreamlike context, given astringency by David Morrow’s austere score.
The light, never strong at any point, fades in and out of a space enclosed with dark curtains. Guillem and Murru, dressed in simple dark trousers and tops, enter and leave. They dance together and separately, giving suggestions of other worlds. At one point Guillem does a little hip twirl accompanied by feet that could come from a square dance; Murru, with his hands clasped behind his back, has his body in planes that make one think of Merce Cunningham. But these are hints only.
As the relatively brief work unfolds the desire to see more grows ever greater but is thwarted. It’s impossible, Forsythe seems to be saying, to see and know everything. Guillem and Murru leave for the last time, the light dies away and the mystery continues.
Bye starts with the startling filmed image of Guillem’s eye in close-up. It is quite an unsparing view but Guillem, bless her, seems to have little vanity. Fair enough when you are as naturally elegant as she is, I suppose. This elegance is something to be overcome in Bye, which shows a woman breaking free of home and hearth for a moment to cut the tiniest bit loose. Guillem is dressed by Katrin Brannstrom in a skirt, blouse and cardy which on anyone else would look exceptionally daggy and which on her has the air of being by Miuccia Prada. She makes ungainly shapes with those glorious limbs and even stands on her head a couple of times. Probably only she could get away with it, but Guillem makes Bye, danced to the lovely Arietta from Beethoven’s Piano sonata Op.111, a touching picture of the everyday housewife. It’s done with humour, touches of the unexpected and a lovely combination of play and wistfulness.
Jiri Kylian’s 27’52” acts as a kind of curtain-raiser to Guillem’s pieces and shares something of their mood and appearance. There is an almost bare stage, a spare sound, crepuscular lighting and something not entirely knowable being enacted, although the result is not in the same league as Bye and, especially, Rearray. This is minor Kylian as a man and a woman negotiate a space in which intimacy and separation play equal parts but it’s given top-notch performances by former Nederlands Dans Theater members Natasa Novotna and Vaclav Kunes. What they do has a strong degree of obviousness but their melting fluidity is mesmerising. 27’52” – I’m pretty sure it didn’t last that long, but what the heck – is billed as being performed “with the participation of Benjamin Stuart-Carberry”. Until last year he was a member of the Australian Ballet and I looked forward to seeing what he would do here. Alas his role is the briefest walk-on as he appears in the gloom, just onstage, to cover Novotna with the end of a long strip of material. Puzzling that one would ask a highly trained dancer to do so little.
6000 miles away continues until Friday March 15.