Questions to Sylvie Guillem
January 23st 2003
Sylvie Guillem’s reply to questions put to her by D. Frétard in Le Monde dated January 21st 2003, poses – am I alone in thinking this ? - further questions, which I beg allowance may be raised here.
We read: "J'ai débuté dans la gymnastique, où il y a beaucoup plus de casse que dans la danse. Les entraîneurs prennent les gamins comme des Kleenex, c'est la loi du rendement, du chronomètre." "I started out as a gymnast, where there’s far more broken crockery than in the ballet. Trainers use kids like Kleenex tissue, it’s the law of productivity, and the stopwatch.”
Does Mlle. Guillem mean to imply that dancers should count their lucky stars, that the methods of Olympic gymnastics have not YET entirely prevailed in ballet training ?
We read : "Bien sûr, il y a une sélection très sévère pour entrer à l'Ecole de l'Opéra, puis dans le corps de ballet. Il faut répondre à des critères très durs de poids, de mesure." "Of course the selection process to get into the POB school is rough. One has got to comply with very strict criteria in respect of weight, and measurements.”
Leaving aside for a moment, candidates resembling Tubby the Tuba, WHO pray, has laid down those “very strict criteria” ? By what method are those “criteria” arrived at ? Perusal of Vogue Magazine ? The cinema ? And who, pray, is our ideal ? Kate Moss ?
Claude Bessy, never precisely Sylph-like, would, no doubt, have been turned down by her own School. Not to speak of Violette Verdy.
We read: "Si l'on trie au départ, c'est dans l'espoir d'avoir l'excellence à l'arrivée. Les gens qui se déplacent pour nous voir ont envie d'applaudir les meilleurs danseurs, les meilleurs spectacles." "The reason for sorting people out from the start, is because we’re aiming for excellence at the other end. People who make the effort of going to the theatre to see us, want to applaud the best dancers, the best shows”.
Come again ? What is “excellence” ? People want to applaud WHAT ? Dancing is NOT just something for the eye. Is it not our duty to make people think, to bring them poetry, music, joy ? Fine, there are indeed basic physical and technical requirements, who would dispute it ? But do we NEED a constant physical buzz, ladies spinning off five pirouettes ? Or men who do jeté à la Tsiskaridze, splitting themselves in two ? What does it bring ? And for how long can they dance like that ? Five to eight years, at most.
We read: "Dire à quelqu'un qu'il est trop gros, ou qu'il ne travaille pas assez, c'est lui rendre service." " Telling someone he’s too stout, or that he doesn’t work enough, is doing him a favour”
Well, it might be, it might not be arrant cruelty, were he indeed too stout, or lazy. The number of stout, or lazy men and women in the professional ballet world today, would not, I suspect, people a telephone booth.
We read: "C'est un problème général de notre société dans laquelle on fait croire à chacun qu'il peut tout obtenir sans travailler, ou sans avoir les qualités requises." "It’s a more general problem in today’s society, where we let on that one can get what one wants, without working at it, or without being possessed of the necessary qualities”.
I would have thought that in the ballet, the more widespread problem is that people have been humiliated to a degree, that they tend rather towards self- loathing. What is more, on a continent, East and West, where we likely have something like eighty or more million unemployed - not to speak of the army of unemployed dancers – a lack of optimism and hope amongst our youth, strikes me as a far more serious problem.
We read, "Il s'agit de passion, de dépassement de soi. L’essence de notre métier, c'est : "Coûte que coûte je le ferai !" ". “It’s a question of passion, of striving to go beyond one’s self. The essence of our trade, is "I’ll do it, no matter the cost" ".
Madam, WHO is telling dancers to do WHAT ? If someone asks you to throw yourself from the 27th Floor of a skyscraper, do you do it, just to shew how passionate you are about serving the choreographer’s intentions ?
I’m all for “striving to go beyond one’s self”, but to WHAT END ? To crack and crush one’s limbs, in the service of some irresponsible buffoon ? To end up a wreck at the age of thirty-five, but trumpet “I DID IT” ? Might one not rather call that the Triumph of the Will ? It’s something sad, something Nietzschean, it has nothing to do with the concept of beauty and love, for which, on occasion, people ARE willing to die.