I think that Sylvie Guillem is one of the most beautiful ballerinas that I have ever seen, with those long legs that go on forever and exquisite turnout. She retired in 2015, but let us take a look at her inspiring life.
“From a small town to ballet stardom: Sylvie Guillem’s inspiring journey”
Sylvie Guillem, the renowned ballet dancer, has had an inspiring journey from a small town to ballet stardom. Born in a small town, Guillem discovered her passion for dance at a young age.
As a child and teenager, she dedicated herself to ballet training, honing her skills and perfecting her technique. Despite the challenges and setbacks she encountered along the way, her determination and talent propelled her towards success.
Sylvie Guillem Ballet Dancer
Her Early Years
Sylvie Guillem Ballet Dancer of Note was born on 23 February 1965 in Paris and was raised in the suburbs within a working-class family.
She was an awkward and shy child and was extremely attached to her parents. As a child, she trained in gymnastics under the instruction of her mother, who was a gymnastics teacher. Her father was a car mechanic. At age 11 Sylvie was already a member of the French National Team training for Olympic glory.
In 1977 at age 11, she began training at the Paris Opera Ballet School (to improve on her gymnastic skills). She hated it and was very homesick as she became a weekly boarder. She cried each Sunday when she had to go back.
Claude Bessy, who was the director of the school at the time, immediately noticed her exceptional capacities and potential, and in 1981 at age 16, she joined the company’s corps de ballet. Initially, she hated dancing, preferring gymnastics, but after taking part in a show she she says the moment the curtains came up she knew that was where she was meant to be, performing.
In 1983, Sylvie Guillem was awarded the Special Prize of the Youth Organization of Varna in the junior division at the Varna International Ballet Competition, which later in the year earned her her first solo role, dancing the Queen of the Dryads in Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of Don Quixote.
On 29 December 1984, after her performance in Nureyev’s Swan Lake, she became the Paris Opera Ballet’s youngest-ever étoile, the company’s top-ranking female dancer.
In 1987, she performed the lead role in William Forsythe’s contemporary ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated with one of her favorite partners, Laurent Hilaire.
In 1988, she was given the title role in a production of Giselle staged by the Royal Ballet to celebrate Nureyev’s 50th birthday. Her performance was a resounding success, and in the following year, she left Paris for London, to become a freelance performer and one of the Royal Ballet’s principal guest artists.
By 1989 she had had enough of the restrictive ballet regime and she found the technique boring. She wanted to dance to her own tune and her defection rocked the Paris culture with the arts minister calling it a national catastrophe, but she followed Nureyev to the Royal Ballet so that she could choose her own repertoire.
Her desire to work independently from a company and say no to things she didn’t want to do gained her the nickname “Mademoiselle Non” from Anthony Dowell.
In 1995, Guillem created the dance television program, Evidentia, which won several international awards. In 1998, she staged her own version of Giselle for the Finnish National Ballet, and in 2001 restaged the ballet for La Scala Ballet in Milan.
In 2001, she became the first winner of the Nijinsky Prize for the world’s best ballerina, although, in her acceptance speech, she criticized the “supermarket culture” of such awards. In the same year, she controversially appeared nude and without make-up in a photo shoot for French Vogue. Her husband Gilles Tapie who was a photographer took the photos.
Interestingly Sylvie Guillem was one of the highest-paid dancers of her time.
“It’s Sylvie Guillem that’s holding the title as the most lucratively paid dancer in the world. She brings home well over $850,000 per year. With a long and illustrious career spanning decades since the 80s, Sylvie has been in demand by theaters worldwide.”
In 2003, she directed the central section of a Nureyev tribute program but was criticized for having the dancers perform in front of a giant projected backdrop of Nureyev, which the audience found distracting.
By 2006, she had moved from ballet to contemporary dance, working with such performers as Akram Khan as an Associate Artist of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.
She loved the more contemporary style of dancing as seen in this clip of 6000 miles away.
In March 2015, Guillem embarked on an international farewell tour titled Life in Progress, featuring works by Khan, Russell Maliphant, Mats Ek, and Forsythe.
The tour concluded in Japan, and she gave her final performance live on Japanese television on 31 December 2015, performing Maurice Béjart’s Boléro as the clock counted down to midnight local time. The performance ended right at the stroke of midnight local time on 1 January 2016. She was fifty years old, which is an amazingly long career for a dancer.
In 2021, Guillem gave her first interview since retiring to speak about her life and artistry, as part of a talk with Daniil Simkin.
Sylvie Guillem is a supporter of the environmental group Sea Shepherd and she is also a vegan.