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Sylvie Guillem & Russell Maliphant - Push

'Solo', 'Shift', 'Two', 'Push'

by Alex R

October 1 , 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

As I approached the theatre on Saturday evening I realised that my experience of dance programmes consisting of solos and duets was very limited. Nevertheless, I had seen excerpts of “Torsion,” a work Russell Maliphant, this evening’s choreographer, created for the Ballet Boyz, and this memory along with Sylvie Guillem’s reputation ensured that my expectations were high.

The first piece, “Solo,” was created for Guillem. She immediately made a deep impression with a stage presence the like of which I have not encountered before.

Initially, orange light bathed Guillem, brightening or dimming with the changes in texture of the guitar music. The steps were not flamenco-based, though Guillem’s seductive movement style and her loose white garments certainly gave an impression of the spirit of Spanish dance. And the slow pace allowed Guillem to demonstrate the range of her abilities, one moment kicking high, the next swooping low and close to the floor.

“Shift,” billed as Maliphant’s signature solo and accompanied by a cello and extraordinary lighting designed by Michael Hulls, started at a slow pace. Amber lights downstage projected six columns of light onto a white backdrop, creating silhouettes of Maliphant.  Even though this work is in essence a solo, there were up to four “Maliphants” on stage, with the angles of the lights creating subtly different silhouettes. The music suggested sadness, and at one point Maliphant moved as if searching for something. The choreography and the fluid integration of the silhouettes were breathtaking, and at the conclusion of this beautiful piece, each column of light slowly faded out until only one remained, which then also died away. Even though it was ostensibly without narrative or over-emotional content, I believe that “Shift” deeply moved many in the audience.

“Two,” the second solo Guillem performed, proved to be my favourite of the night, as it provided the greatest scope of her abilities, while demonstrating Maliphant’s choreographic style most clearly. Guillem, trapped in a box of light which eventually dimmed in the centre and brightened at the border, tried to break through, but at each contact pulled back. This emphasized another brilliant lighting effect -- for fractions of a second, a hand or foot would be brighter than the rest of her body.

As with all the pieces in the programme, the pace of the music began slowly, but after awhile a clear, pulsing beat kicked in. Guillem performed her swooping arm gestures and fluid leg movements along with the quick changes between standing tall and crouching with a style and verve that I have not seen equaled. It was the highlight of the evening for me.

The question in my mind before “Push” was - can two performers fill a stage for 32 minutes? Unfortunately, the answer in this case was no. Perhaps my expectations were too high after the first three works, and although “Push” had some merits, with performers of this calibre working together I was disappointed not to see something really special.

When the lights rose, Guillem was sitting on Maliphant’s shoulders, gradually working her way down to the floor. Twice during the opening section of the work, the lights went out, and each time they came up, Guillem returned to Maliphant’s shoulders. There were some lovely movements as well as fluid sequences where Guillem and Maliphant bent and turned themselves around each other without touching, with suggestions of capoeira. However, there were also periods when they simply walked around the stage, occasionally adding a movement or two; it seemed that Maliphant just didn’t have enough ideas to fill a 30 minute piece.

At first, I wondered if Andy Cowton’s score didn’t give the choreographer much to work with, as it opened slowly and continued in the same way, without any climax. However, in the post-performance talk we learned that Maliphant created at least 50% of the material before the music was available. Nevertheless, “Push” was certainly a hit with the audience, and the applause kept Guillem and Maliphant onstage for a good five minutes.

I believe that many choreographers could learn from the use of lighting in this programme. In all four pieces, Hulls created some of the most imaginative lighting I have seen; especially memorable were the silhouettes in “Shift” and the box in “Two.” The audience rightly gave Hulls a round of applause at the post-show talk.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable evening, and it was a great experience to see two dancers of such a high standard perform outstanding choreography. Alistair Spalding, the Chief Executive of Sadler’s, assured us that this programme will return in the future.

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