Rearranged by Forsythe and de-glamourised by Ek, Sylvie still shows that perfect line that comes from her ballet beginnings

In Sylvie Guillem’s production, 6000 Miles Away, William Forsythe’s abstract duet, Rearray, is the brain and Mats Ek’s melancholy solo, Bye, is the gut.

Rearray, danced by Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru, is cerebral, an exercise in precision and tension.

Glimpsed in fragments interrupted by fast, or slow-fading black outs, Rearray is based on the ballet vocabulary but deconstructed by the master of deconstruction, Forsythe, who gave Guillem the gift of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated back in 1987.

There are remnants of Forsythe’s work of that era still visible in Rearray – the fondness for a retire position, the flexed wrists, the arms that are all about freedom and the legs that are all steel, and the frequent return to the ‘back to ballet base’ with arms in fourth position and foot in tendu devant.

More than a quarter of a century since In the Middle, Guillem’s remarkable facility is still there (at the age of 48), including the famous the 6 o’clock position of her leg.

But Rearray, danced to a score by Forsythe collaborator, David Morrow, is much more restrained than the days when Forsythe put the women in pointe shoes and green saucer tutus and the men in tights or trunks.

The dancers wear grey pants and tops that might have come straight from a budget catalogue.

(Among the creatives listed in the program there is no costume designer for Rearray – no need of one.)

Guillem keeps her hair in place with a black headband while Murru lets much of his long hair flow free (somewhat distractingly).

(Guillem first danced Rearray with Nicolas Le Riche, seen in the photos left).

There’s no backcloth, no set, nothing at all to detract from the movement.

A controlled, slow solo for Guillem is the highlight – it’s an adage that is twisted, broken down, de-beautified and de-glamorised, but still a display of the perfection of her speed and stillness, her arms like fronds, adrift at times from her lower body.

Every phrase is precise. Every pose is photo perfect, but always there’s the unexpected. She steps into an arabesque but instead of extending her arms draws them close to her body.

The audience response to this chamber work at the Sydney Opera House on opening night, 8 March, was almost as restrained as the setting.

Perhaps that’s because it followed a similarly darkly lit piece by Jiri Kylián, 27’52”, danced to music by Dirk Haubrich (based on two themes by Mahler) and opening with a voiceover spoken in different languages.

The work was created by Kylián for Nederlands Dans Theater II in 2002 and Nataša Novotná and Václav Kuneš, the couple who are dancing it in Australia, must know the piece like the proverbial back of their hand. They first danced it in 2004.

The dancers in black pants and bare chests (she removes her red top early on) shadow one another, eventually moving into combat but their aggressive moves are interspersed by tenderness and aspects of loss.

There are aspects of grief throughout, most strongly at the end when the dancers were individually wrapped in black material, as if they were both put to rest, separately.

Mats Ek’s choreography for Bye brilliantly interprets Beethoven’s final piano sonata, Op.111 Arietta, a work that Beethoven’s biographer, Wilhelm von Lenz has seen as a resignation or Nirvana – the world beyond conflict.

Bye is danced to recording of the sonata played by Ivo Pogorelich.

Dressed in a mustard coloured skirt and charity shop brown patterned shirt – perhaps the least attractive costume she has ever worn – Guillem enters the stage space as a woman alone but dances at times with her own image and those of other humans and a dog (cue audience laughter) projected onto a screen representing a door.

She enacts moments of her life, the search for connections and the resolution when she sheds her life as she slips through the door. (At least that’s my interpretation).

The choreography is complex, fast, dense and difficult – a tango-like movement of her foot tracing a circle on the floor, a rapid criss-crossing of the legs as Guillem whizzes across the stage, a handstand in which she appears like a capital H, a pas de cheval, and many sequences that transform her from a frump of despair, all fallen shoulders and slumping head, into the essence of freedom and elevation, whether in a pose or jete, until she finally puts on her cardie and shoes and exits upstage.

By the end of Bye, the audience was captured.

The season at the Sydney Opera House ends on 15 March but the production will return to Australia this year for the Melbourne Festival in October.

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