Sylvie Guillem Announces Retirement

November 12, 2014


This year has been a big one for ballet, as many of its beloved women have already left or will soon leave the stage. New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan retired to great fanfare last month. Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes will leave American Ballet Theatre this spring. And the young Carla Körbes will step down at the end of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2014–15 season. (Not female, but definitely notable, Carlos Acosta has also announced that he will retire after The Royal Ballet’s 2015–16 season.)


Now, Sylvie Guillem, the impossibly flexible, striking and—dare I use this dancer lingo for truly a lack of a better word—fierce dancer has announced that she will too retire. The farewell planned is a “Life In Progress” program of new pieces by Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, plus Mats Ek’s Bye and William Forsythe’s Duo, that will tour from March to December 2015. She will leave the stage at age 50.

Guillem is one of the reasons why I ever imagined a stage life beyond princesses and peasants, tutus and tulle. Of course, that’s how she started her career, becoming an étoile with the Paris Opéra Ballet at age 19, and later guesting with The Royal Ballet. But just as quickly, she became a purveyor of contemporary work, most famously originating a lead role in Forsythe’s pounding In the middle, somewhat elevated (1987). In later years, she had a close artistic relationship with Mats Ek. And since 2006, she’s been an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells in London. Of course, we gush over her limitless extension, incredible feet and unbelievable body articulation. But Guillem showed us what women in ballet can truly be: sometimes as delicate as lace, sometimes wild, messy and completely unapologetic.

And now, since Whelan has stepped down (but not necessarily stepped back), who can we look to next? With the farewell of these talents, at least we’re given the room to let new ones in. Ladies, I’m waiting.

Until then, let’s look at that famous, grainy In the middle video for the millionth time.


Photo of Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s
Bye by Lesley Leslie-Spinks, Courtesy Guillem.

Lesley Leslie-Spinks, Courtesy Guillem