PARIS (AFP) ― French dancer Sylvie Guillem is to bring down the curtain on a glittering career that saw her plucked from relative obscurity by Rudolf Nureyev to become the world’s most sought after ballerina.
Announcing her intention to retire at the end of 2015, Guillem, 49, said she still loved dancing but had decided now was the right time to bow out.
“I have loved every moment of the last 39 years and today I am still loving it in the same way,” she said.
“So why stop? Very simply because I want to end while I’m still happy doing what I do with pride and passion.
Sylvie Guillem (Sylvie Guillem Facebook)
“I have been on an exhilarating journey and now I’m about to change direction,” she added in a statement.
Famed for her long legs, red hair, bold attitude and extreme flexibility, Guillem is a star name who has always been able to pull in audiences.
Nicknamed “Mademoiselle Non” for her uncompromising approach, she will present her last dance program in Modena in March, with performances at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre in May and an international tour ending in Tokyo in December.
Guillem was catapulted to international stardom three decades ago following a December 1984 performance of Swan Lake with the Paris Opera Ballet.
After her debut as Odette/Odile, the then director Nureyev swept onstage to announce her promotion to star dancer ― the youngest in the company’s long history.
Guillem is considered Nureyev’s most outstanding protg and together the pair captivated audiences.
“When she was dancing with him it was (like) one person. Rudolf was very impressed by that,” dancer and choreographer Pierre Lacotte said recently.
“He (Nureyev) said ‘she’s so young and she wants to be like me.’ She had a presence, a very great presence,” he said.
The relationship, however, was not always easy.
Guillem has said that Nureyev was “very shy” and “difficult” resulting in “explosive” exchanges when the two did not agree.
A technical virtuoso blessed with sensitivity and an inquiring mind, Guillem enjoyed a meteoric rise.
In 1989, she left Paris for London where she became the Royal Ballet’s principal guest artist and undertook other projects as a freelance.
In more recent years she branched out into experimental dance.
Her first contemporary performance was staged at London’s Sadler’s Wells in 2004 where she has also collaborated with dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.
Originally trained as a gymnast, Guillem has continued to perform regularly although she now lives in the Swiss mountains and has developed an interest in environmental activism.
In the past she has brushed off questions about retirement.
“I live day by day but I can’t say if I’ll still be dancing at 50 or 55,” she said in 2000.
“What I like about what I do is to the pleasure and as soon as I think the pain is higher than the pleasure of going onstage then I will stop, but I can’t say when that will be,” she added.
Her last dance program will be entitled “Life in Progress” and includes two new works, one a solo performance choreographed by Khan and another performed with Italian dancer Emanuela Montanari and choreographed by Russell Maliphant.