Monday, June 25, 2012

Sylvie Guillem in Venice - The 8th International Contemporary Dance Festival

Sylvie Guillem - Photo La Biennale
(Venice, Italy) The renowned French dancer, Sylvie Guillem, thanked the renowned Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, when Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, and Ismael Ivo, Director of the Venice International Contemporary Dance Festival presented her with the Golden Lion here in Venice on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Sala delle Colonne in Ca' Giustinian, La Biennale headquarters.

Ismael Ivo, Sylvie Guillem, Paolo Baratta Photo: ©La Biennale
Nureyev discovered Guillem when he was the Director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Guillem said, "Nureyev was a miracle." She said she had a passion to do everything, try everything, and that Rudolph had the same spirit. When the Paris Opera Ballet would not let her have what she wanted, she told them she would leave. They said, "Where will you go? This is dance." They refused to budge, so she left with nothing and went to the Royal Ballet in London. She said she did not have a strategy: "I am instantaeous." She said that in France, yes, they had the technique, but in London it was more about the story, the theatre, and building a character, and that "there was more life inside the dance." From Wikipedia:

In 1983 Guillem won the gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition, which later in the year earned her her first solo role, dancing the Queen of the Driads in Rudolf Nureyev's staging of Don Quixote.[1] In December 1984, after her performance in Nureyev's Swan Lake, she became the Paris Opera Ballet's youngest-ever étoile, the company's top-ranking female dancer.[1] In 1987 she performed the lead role in William Forsythe's contemporary ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. In 1988 she was given the title role in a production of Giselle staged by the Royal Ballet to celebrate Nureyev's 50th birthday. Her performance was a success, and in the following year she left Paris for London, to become a freelance performer and one of the Royal Ballet's principal guest artists.[1] Her desire to work independently from a company gained her the nickname Mademoiselle Non.[2]
Nureyev, of course, was one of the most exceptional dancers of all time, full of passion and dare. His spirit wanted freedom so much that it inspired him to dramatically defect from the Soviet Union. Free spirits make totalitarian governments go crazy, and those governments will do everything they can to try to destroy the artists. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you what it feels like to be targeted by a totalitarian government -- my particular government happens to be the USA, but they are basically all the same -- it feels like one student vs. four tanks in Tienanmen Square.

Originally a Soviet citizen, Nureyev defected to the West in 1961, despite KGB efforts to stop him.[1] According to KGB archives studied by Peter Watson, Nikita Khrushchev personally signed an order to have Nureyev killed.[2]

Nureyev was just a dancer, for goodness sake. He was not a terrorist. He was not plotting to overthrow the government. He was jumping high, with grace. That the Soviet Union would order Nureyev to be assassinated because he was a free spirit... it is insanity. That Nureyev was able to perform under such circumstances demonstrates how resilient the human spirit can be.

Here is a clip from a PBS promo for GREAT PERFORMANCES: Nureyev - The Russian Years to remind us just how dynamic Nureyev was, and how much joy and power the unbridled human spirit can have. Just watch how the divine creative energy can express itself inside the human body:

Nureyev was Guillem's mentor, recognizing a kindred spirit. At the Golden Lion ceremony, I recognized the free spirit inside Guillem myself, and was delighted to hear her speak candidly and honestly -- in Italian, not French. Once again I was reminded about how different truth sounds, no matter what language we speak. In today's world, we are surrounded by so much dishonesty and outright lies that when we hear the truth, we recognize it immediately. It is like a cold shower, refreshing, that shocks you awake.

Photo: Bill Cooper ©La Biennale
Guillem said she didn't like being part of a group and did not spend much time in a corps de ballet because it was too rigid. If you wanted to rise within the company, you must do this, this, this. At the end of the year every ballerina must take an exam in front of the jury and the audience, and the reaction was silence. When asked what advice she had for young dancers, she said: "Don't compromise," but warned it was not an easy path. 

A young dancer in the audience asked Guillem if there had ever been a time that she didn't feel like going on stage, and, if so, what did Guillem do about it? Guillem thought, and said, yes, there was a time when she was in Washington and had to dance Swan Lake and did she didn't feel like it. She forced herself to do it anyway, and it was very, very difficult. Afterwards, she made a promise to herself that if she ever felt like she didn't want to go on stage again, she would not go on stage. "After that, every time I have gone on stage is because I want to!"

I am certainly glad that Sylvie Guillem felt like going on stage on Friday night at the Malibran Theatre. At age 47, she exemplifies how enduring the creative spirit can be. She called the evening 6,000 Miles Away in support of the people of Japan who suffered the devastating effects of the tsunami while she was working with the American choreographer, William Forsythe, in London. The title also sums up her belief that you do not have to be physically near to someone to admire and like them. The evening began with 27'52" by the Czech choreographer, Jiri Kilian, performed by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak with a new composition by Dirk P. Haubrich. Then Guillem, along with Massimo Murru, dazzled the audience with Rearray by Forsythe, with music by David Morrow. The evening concluded with the magical Bye by the Swedish choreographer, Mats Ek, danced to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven -- Sonata per pianoforte n32, Op.111, arranged by Ivo Pogorelich. The audience was enchanted, demanding curtain call after curtain call. 

Here is a brief interview, with Guillem speaking in Italian, which also includes some glimpses of the Golden Lion ceremony, and her performance on stage. She starts off saying that she is a very timid person, and that the stage is a world apart, a world where time is not the same, and space is not the same. She concludes by saying that she had the good fortune to begin very young, when she was just a child, to make mistakes and learn, like a game, and continues with that same energy up to today. Sylvie Guillem's 6000 Miles Away was made possible with the support of Rolex, one of the rare companies on this planet that still recognizes and supports genuine talent, in collaboration with La Fenice.

Thanks to Ismael Ivo, the Director of La Biennale Dance, that childlike, joyful creative energy emanates throughout the entire dance festival, as it does from the man himself. Since January, when the students of Arsenale della Danza began their master classes, sharing their progress with the public -- the line to enter the theatre literally went around the block; it was standing-room-only, often you had to arrive by 5:15 for the 6:00pm performance or you could not get in -- the entire community has participated in watching them grow. And then, to watch them perform Ivo's newest creation, Biblioteca del corpo (Library of the Body) on opening night! The students were discovering their own unique voice, like individual books, yet part of a great library. Arsenale della Danza is certainly one corps de ballet that encourages artistic freedom and individual creative expression.

Ismael Ivo Photo: La Biennale
The Biennale of Venice 8th International Contemporary Dance Festival concluded with a truly unique premiere by Flemish choreographer Wim Vandekeybus and his Ultma Vez company entitled Booty Looting. It was inspired by the German Fluxus artist, Joseph Beuys' 1974 performance piece I Like America and America Likes Me, when Beuys traveled to New York City by ambulance, and spent three days in a room in the René Block Gallery wrapped in felt, together with a wild coyote. 

So you can get a feel of just how magical the venue itself is, below are some images from the Arsenale last night, alone with phantoms of the past.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Arsenale 1

Arsenale 2
Arsenale 3


  1. Nureyev discovered Guillem when he was the Director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Guillem said, "Nureyev was a miracle." She said she had a passion to do everything, try everything, and that Rudolph had the same spirit.

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