For the first time since her retirement, Sylvie Guillem gives such an interview at her home, inviting Daniil Simkin to chat amongst olive trees, pastures, and her pets. She talks about her childhood, her relationship with Nureyev, and her experiences at the Paris Opera Ballet. She discusses her state of mind during her career and her current lifestyle.
Sylvie Guillem is one of the most acclaimed dancers in the history of the dance world. With her flexible and strong body, beautiful legs, and rich expressive power, she transformed the image of conventional female dancers. She revolutionized classical ballet, pioneering a new model of classical ballerina. At a time when contemporary and modern dance was not associated with classical ballet dancers, she took on new works one after another and became the multi-talented dancer as we know her today.
The entire 30-minute interview is available for free only on the Dance Masterclass website.
Watch now on Dance Masterclass
If you were at the dress rehearsal for The Australian Ballet’s production of Sylvia you might have noticed a few guest artists on stage – and we’re not just talking about Misty Copeland. Alexander Phoon, a young dance student, was cast as one of the adorable, scene-stealing cherubs. Alexander, and his mum Catherine, are both members of the Friends and we are beyond thrilled that we got to see him on stage with The Australian Ballet for the first time.
We asked Alexander a few questions about ballet and how he got involved with Sylvia.
When did you start dancing and where do you currently learn?
I started dance at the age of eight and I currently dance at The McDonald College.
What made you want to start dancing? Why do you love it?
I started dancing because I have always been inspired by performing arts, although after watching The Australian Ballet I immediately knew that one day I would be a ballet dancer.
How did you get involved with Sylvia and The Australian Ballet?
Through The McDonald College – I was lucky enough to be able to apply for the show and the next day I was informed that I had successfully been accepted.
How long were you rehearsing for Sylvia?
I was rehearsing for Sylvia for around just a week.
What is your favourite part of Sylvia? Is there a particular dance or movement you love? And favourite character?
My favourite part of Sylvia is the feeling when get to go on stage and the experience of being able to work alongside the company. My favourite character would have to be Eros as he does an amazing solo and is a very energetic character.
Who’s your male principle dancer with The Australian Ballet?
My favourite male dancer in the company is definitely Chengwu Guo because of his outstanding athleticism, ability and determination.
What’s your favourite ballet and why?
My all time favourite ballet is definitely Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon as it has a lot of excitement and interesting characters. The choreography for the ballet is amazing too.
As audience members, we usually gawk at a dancer’s consecutive turns and flying leaps, but from the perspective of sculptor Linda Klarfeld, it is the intricate and fast-moving positions of a dancer that she wishes to immortalise in bronze. Before our Sylvia Dress Rehearsal performance, we were honoured to have Linda Klarfield, a celebrated Australian sculptor to talk about how she intertwined her artistic gifts and her admiration of ballet in her 6 dance-inspired bronze sculptures. In this talk, her sculptures were brought to life by two talented young students from Allegria Dance Studio.
Her talk detailed her tedious process of sculpting and modelling, of her obsessive observation with the placing of an index finger, or the positioning of a hip bone. Her artworks capture positions that are impossible to hold, as Linda described that her bronze sculptures will stay ‘en pointe’ for 2000 years. As she was never a professional dancer, she leaned on the technical eye of David McAllister and Robert Albert to critique and examine her plasticine sculptures before casting them in rubber/plaster moulds. Using these moulds, she would cast the sculptures in wax and detail any imperfections. At one point, she recalled she had been so obsessive in perfecting the detailing of the hands and materials, she had overlooked that she had cast a dancer with (literally) two left feet. After creating a ceramic mould with the wax sculptures, she would melt out the wax and pour in the bronze.
Bronze is characterized by permanence and strength; hence, Linda relies on it to hold impossible poses with impeccable balance. In her statue of the pas de deux from Giselle, she highlights how her greatest challenge was locating the position’s centre of gravity. In this statue, the ballerina is not yet at the top of her lift, and Linda explains that she located the centre of gravity as being slightly off-centre, as the two dancers pull up and away from each other to maintain balance. We have all seen these lifts in arabesque, with the risen leg stretching through a 90-degree angle, however, the eye always misses the moments before the picture. Linda’s sculptures make that moment tangible to help incite a feeling of excitement about what is about to happen, to bring the sculptures to life in what feels like a real-life pas de deux.
This whole process would take around 6 months for every sculpture, however, in every finished result, you can clearly see the admiration and dedication Linda has for her dancers and her art. We thank her for sharing her unique insight into the world of sculpting and ballet with our members, and commend her on her beautiful artworks.
Sculptor Linda Klarfeld
All photos were taken by Lexy Potts.
Opening in Melbourne over the weekend, it looks like The Australian Ballet’s production of Stanton Welch’s Sylvia is capturing hearts.
‘Welch captures the style of a romantic ballet while maintaining a sense of modernity. This results in a feast of utterly bewitching shapes and movement from start to finish… Sylvia achieves everything it sets out to do; it is a joyous production that showcases exhilarating choreography and the exceptional talent of The Australian Ballet‘
– Jenna Schroder for ArtsHub
‘Sylvia is a wonderfully successful synthesis of choreography, music, lighting, projection, set design and costuming.’
– Susan Bendall for Dance Australia
If the reviews are anything to go by, it looks like we are in for an absolute treat when Sylvia make its way to Sydney in November. Tickets for the dress rehearsal on 7 November are available here.
Main image Simon Schluter
With tickets for the Dress Rehearsal of Sylvia now on sale, here are some behind the scenes shots of The Australian Ballet dancers getting ready to bring Stanton Welch’s new production to Sydney. Click here to book your tickets
Photography Kate Longley