Sylvie Guillem, Lincoln Center, New York

So much of ballet depends on conjuring an ideal, but for the Modiglianiesque Sylvie Guillem no illusion-making is necessary. Perfectly tapered limbs, cinched waist, swan neck, feet arched like fruit hanging from the stem – the French ballerina has it all. She has countered this natural extremity with an objective approach – legs point to midnight, feeling stays under wraps – and a restless search during the past 25 years for choreographers who could challenge her. For the touring show 6000 miles away, which began in London last July and concludes in Lyon in June, the 47-year-old has returned to two long-time collaborators.

William Forsythe’s recent Rearray, for La Scala’s Massimo Murru and Guillem, has the character of a master artist’s pencil drawing. It is exquisite and with every stroke suggestively incomplete. The dance, like David Morrow’s electronic score, is full of ellipses. When Guillem or Murru stopped after circling an arm or leg, the movement spiralled on invisibly like smoke rings disappearing into the air.

Murru responded avidly to Forsythe’s sudden starts and stops. Guillem flickered the tips of her arms and legs like flame. The two flurried around each other, sometimes in place, sometimes while scudding across the stage like a storm cloud. What began as a humdrum exercise soon entranced.

If for Forsythe the principal motif is the spiral, for Swedish choreographer and groundbreaking dance filmmaker Mats Ek it is the absurdly straight line. The limbs jut out like two-by-fours while the torso collapses into cartoonish concavities and squiggles: a funny and forthright lexicon for Ek’s expressionist dramas. Guillem’s elongated frame only accentuates the humour and pathos.

In Bye, Ek’s solo for Guillem, her exceptionality works in the service of an Everywoman who, by means of daydream, saves herself from fading out. The choreographer succumbs to some mawkishness, but not Guillem. She never patronised this strange, frowsy lady in lizard-green cardigan with body as lumpy and settled as an old mattress. She brought a fierce presence to the woman’s treasured ruminations so we saw both how little of her makes it to the surface and how much lives beneath.

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