Sensational Sylvie is a joy to watch - says James Hayward.

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SYLVIE Guillem is sensational – unquestionably one of the world’s greatest artists – and she proves it (as if she needed to) in this riveting programme of short contemporary ballets.

She performs in the latter two of three pieces, and if the first piece lacks impact it is more to do with the power of her later apperances than any lack of talent on the part of the couple who performed first. To choreography by the Czech Jirí Kylián, a man emerges shirtless from a floor cloth that runs the width of the stage; a girl, after a while shirtless too, engages in a series of encounters with the man, and the piece ends with both of them buried and separated beneath each end of the cloth. It contains some interesting moves danced with precision by the couple, but, frustratingly the soundtrack has a voiceover in French and its inter-relation with the stage action was rather lost. If it was relevant, a translation in the programme note would have helped.

The centrepiece of the evening was a duet created for Guillem and one of her regular dance partners, the Paris Opera Ballet star, Nicolas Le Riche, by William Forsyth. Rearray is a kind of deconstructed grand pas de deux. We begin with briefly glimpsed episodes of dance, the lights fading in and out, and the piece slowly builds into a glorious clebration of what has been a warm and wonderful partnership. Although largely contemporary in style (no pointe shoes for Guillem), here and there we see flashes of the classical pieces they would have danced together in the past. We get brief freeze frames of Guillem in the iconic poses of the great ballet heroines: the Swan Queen in elegant arabesque, Princess Aurora balancing proudly in attitude. It has it witty moments, too. At one point the couple bob to the music, backs to the audience, as if sharing a joke. Later her right leg, thrown high into the air (a Guillem signature move) almost catches her partner full in the face.

Throughout, Gulliem wheels, whips and slices through the air as if it is a different medium to the one the rest of us move in. Le Riche matches her in prowess, his solo too is full of influences from the classical lexicon, with aerial turns and beaten steps.

The final piece, choreographed by Mats Ek, is an extended solo for Gulliem. It is astonishly good. Again with a strong streak of humour, a woman, quite plainly dressed, emerges, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, from a two-dimensional, monochrome world (a really clever use of a video screen here) and dances to a Beethoven piano sonata. At one point, she takes off her socks and shoes, almost as it were possible to paddle in the rectangles of light that are cast on to the stage. Of course, this frees those beautifully arched feet, and she now dances with greater abandon. Her revelry ended, she returns to her sombre world, where a crowd of puzzled on-lookers has now gathered. A hugly enjoyable piece, greeted with tumultuous applause by the Maltings audience.

JAMES HAYWARD

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