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Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant


by David Mead

April 4, 2008 -- London Coliseum

“PUSH” has been honoured with four major dance awards and nominated for several others, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem is dance at its very best. Maliphant’s fluid and physical choreography alone is enough to grab you by itself, but when he performs it himself he seems to add an extra dimension. And then of course there is Guillem. She is not so much a vehicle for his work as the perfect partner; someone as intense and committed to pushing the boundaries as he is. None of the works on show were new, and I guess most of the audience had seen them before. But that didn’t stop them greeting each one with an almost reverential hush before exploding into appreciation at the end. 

In “Solo,” Guillem is bathed in a pool of light that comes from a group of low slung spotlights and that seem to give her white costume an inner glow. She responds to Carlos Montoya’s flamenco rhythms with a combination of sudden accents and classical grace, capturing the energy and feeling of the music without actually adopting the style. 

Her second solo, “Two”, is even more stunning. The whole dance takes place in a small square of light. At first she explores it slowly, before gradually increasing the speed and intensity of the same movement. So fast does it get that her arms and feet become whirling blurs, the light catching them, almost making them seem as if they are on fire. Guillem dances in a long black dress, which in combination with the dark background serves to emphasize the incredible expressiveness of her back. 

Sandwiched between these is “Shift,” a Maliphant solo from 1996. There is only Maliphant himself on stage, but this is far from being a solo. Michael Hulls’ clever lighting provides him with up to three shadows to dance with; extra characters that come and go with Maliphant moving around the stage. Because the light comes from different angles they look the same, and of course are doing the same movement, yet are different. In many ways the work has a greater intensity that either of the Guillem solos. So many choreographers who make work on themselves fall into the trap of becoming self-indulgent and lose that all important connection with the audience. Not here. Maliphant responds so intelligently to the lighting and Shirley Thompson’s melancholic score that, like him, we become completely subsumed in the work. 

Indeed, the lighting was an essential component to the impact of all four works. Throughout the evening, Maliphant shows just how important it is and how it can be used to great effect. While he is not the only contemporary choreographer to acknowledge and understand this, there are still far too many who seem to see it as something to be thought about after the movement has been made. As with all good dance, “PUSH” is truly a fusion of all the theatre arts. 

“Push”, the duet that completes the programme, brings the two together for thirty minutes of beautiful, utterly transfixing dance. Maliphant and Guillem are completely in tune with each other as they caress each other’s bodies, their slow and sensuous connections again accented by the lighting and the score. It’s a perfect and equal partnership. The dance is punctuated by lifts in which Guillem seems almost feather-light as she rises effortlessly above Maliphant’s liquid yet powerful body, and unexpected, often momentary pauses, as if the world stops just for a split second, before moving on once more. You can tell how good they are because it all looks so easy; two dancers in perfect harmony.

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