Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant

October 11, 2006

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant
City Center, NYC

October 11-15, 2006

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Sylvie Guillem in Russell Maliphant�s “Push”

Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy Sadler�s Wells

In “Push,” Sylvie Guillem has the perfect vehicle for her talents at this moment, and choreographer Russell Maliphant understands her strengths very well. Consisting of three solos (one for him, two for her) and an eponymous duet, the show—not without its charms—takes balletified modern right up to the border of entertainment, like other recent commercial star vehicles such as Kings of the Dance.

Guillem is rightfully revered for her bionic ballet body—feet with soaring arches, unimpinged extensions, and elongated limbs. She was snatched up by Rudolf Nureyev at the Paris Opéra Ballet, rocketing to the top rank (étoile) in 1984 at just 19 years of age. Because of her early fame, she bridges the heady glamour years of Fonteyn/Nureyev and the current, more democratic era of ballet.

In Solo (2005), a barefoot Guillem, clad in gauzy white, followed paths and squares of light (designed by Michael Hulls) cast by a matrix of low-hanging fixtures. Early on, she whipped a leg into her renowned six-o’clock extension, quickly meeting and defusing expectations. Fluid and languid, her movement favored looping spirals and contiguous phrases. She flashed her hyperarticulated feet and legs but did not linger in extensions—a privilege of a custom-designed production. Two (1997) featured a ring of light that at times dramatically illuminated Guillem’s well-toned back. At other times only the perimeter of the ring was lit, so flashes of her feet and hands caught the light.

Maliphant’s solo, Shift (1996), boasted a brilliant lighting scheme by Hulls composed of several parallel rectangles cast upstage. As Maliphant passed each fixture, he appeared in silhouette singly, doubly, and—magically—sometimes not at all. His movement seemed incidental—prosaic, quiet, spiced up with an occasional handstand or arched back.