Last night, The Coliseum was really the place to be. The audience spontaneously rose to its feet, and this is only the second time I witness such a reaction – the other was when Osipova danced Giselle. Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant presented a gorgeous evening of dance, anchored in Maliphant vision that choreography, lighting and music are equal collaborators at work.

<i>Push</i> © Bill Cooper
Push
© Bill Cooper

Set to the music of Carlos Montoya, Guillem's Solo is the essence of flamenco, a flamenco wind which blows in, accented by the sirocco. Flamenco rhythms and postures, its whirling, its pauses are all present... and she was like an apparition, in her flowing garments, her beautiful lines and exquisite feet accentuating the line. Solo is a variation on the theme (of flamenco) exploring more abstract interventions. Montoya's guitar then made way for a mournful, bass cello in the second piece, Maliphant's solo Shift. Shirley Thompson's score added strings as Maliphant's dance added shadows. This work is inspired by yoga, and its influence can be seen in the oppositional pulls, Malliphant's torso twisting away from his frontal facing hips. At one point, he is accompanied by three of his own shadows. This piece is about shapes, and I occasionally wanted the music to continue and the dancing to be still, the continuous music needing contrast. Two, performed by Guillem, exploits, on the contrary, isolation of movement. The dancer is trapped inside a box of light, the rest of the stage in darkness. She wears a minimal black gown which almost causes her torso to be absent. The same movement phrases are repeated with increasing intensity, expressed through her arms, shoulders, head, and even her hands and feet. She becomes a blur of movement, as her exertions become frantic. Parts of her body collide with light, lending a hand a life of its own. Sometimes we see an abstract painting, and sometimes light bleeding onto her black garment gives a chiaroscuro effect which produces sculptural modelling. She seems to disappear into a Black Hole.

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in <i>Push</i> © Johan Persson
Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in Push
© Johan Persson

The final piece, Push, was created for Sylvie Guillem in 2005 by Maliphant himself. Through the location of weight and the exertion of force, the choreography explores density and roundness, but also an opposite, linear design and the freedom of separation. The work was sequenced into different encounters demarcated by changes in Andy Cowton's musical provision, from haunting vocalizations to animal-like sounds. There were moments straight out of traditional Japanese dance in which the tiniest movement of Guillem's head, or the twist of a wrist were significant. She is such a nuanced artist. The design in the first sculptural segment brought to mind Michelangelo's Pieta, with Guillem cradled lifeless, like the lifeless Christ, in Maliphant's arms. The beauty and pathos of it left the audience in absolute silence. When two bodies touch and respond to one another, where does this contiguity lead in movement terms? You carry on the movement to see where it will take you. Part of the choreography of Push isn't so much pas de deux, but a new invention of constantly air born movement. Repetition is used to return to a point of recognition and to centre the work. The ending was an echo of the beginning; instead of sculptural form rising, it seemed to melt into darkness.

The purity and simplicity of these performances is attained only through the highest reaches of art. This brief encounter, for the audience, will transpose itself into a lasting body of classical works added to the dance canon. And as for me, I felt humble in the face of the toil and the artistry of both Guillem and Maliphant.

*****