Sylvie Guillem

Rachel Hanson
Swan Lake Ballet

Sylvie Guillem is one of France's best loved ballerinas. Known for her performances in Giselle, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote, Guillem is celebrated for these ballets in particular, but also for her contemporary dance prowess.

Sylvie Guillem's Early Training

Sylvie Guillem was born in Paris in 1965, and began training in gymnastics very early in life. The daughter of a gymnast, Sylvie was taught gymnastics by her mother; showing a gift for physical movement, Sylvie began ballet training at the age of 11.

Within just a few years of formal ballet training (at the Paris Opera Ballet School), Sylvie Guillem was clearly on a route to exceptional ballet prowess. It only took four years of training in ballet before she had gone from a complete amateur to joining the company as a member. After a few short years in the corps de ballet, she would become a prestigious member of Paris Opera Ballet.

Joining Paris Opera Ballet

Joining the company in 1981, Sylvie Guillem was on a fast track to success. In the corps de ballet, she excelled from the very beginning. Only two years after joining the company, and at the young age of 17, Sylvie was given her first solo role in a ballet after having won first place in an international ballet competition. Her first solo was the role of the Queen of the Driads in Don Quixote, a solo role that she embraced, catapulting her into frequent future solos.

Guillem became the youngest ever prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet. Only six years after joining the corps de ballet, Sylvie was invited to dance in London at the Royal Ballet; she was offered the lead role in a production celebrating Nureyev's 50th birthday. The stakes were incredibly high, but Guillem met and exceeded every expection. She charmed England even more quickly than she had charmed France.

Moving to the Royal Ballet

Fairly quickly on the heels of this raging success in London, Sylvie Guillem was invited to join the Royal Ballet as a guest artist, which allowed her the freedom and flexibity she had always strived for. She made the choice to move to the Royal, leaving the Paris Opera Ballet behind only seven years after having joined it at the young age of 15.

Partly due to her freedom with the Royal Ballet, Guillem was able to pursue additional projects in addition to ballet. In the 1990s, she created a television show called Evidentia, which was met with great success. The program, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a dance program for television--long before the trend of dance programs on television that flooded the market after the year 2000.

Sylvie Guillem traveled around Europe, choreographing and staging for several of Europe's most prestigious dance companies. Her career has evolved to include other aspects of dance beyond dancing itself.

Beyond Ballet

In addition to ballet, Guillem began to explore other areas of dance in her career. Currently, she is a contemporary dance artist in England, having left ballet at the sidelines recently. Sylvie is an artist at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, where she was preceded by several greats of the dance world.

Perception of Sylvie Guillem

Although Guillem stopped dancing in France more than 20 years ago, she is still loved, admired, and claimed by the French. Considered to be one of Frances' best-ever ballerinas, Guillem is celebrated for her technique, skill, grace, and beauty.

Much more information on Sylvie Guillem's dancing and work can be found at her official website. In addition to information about her career and choreography, you can also preview her new book, Invitation, whose pictures are bound to leave you even more in love with ballet, and with Sylvie, than you already perhaps are.

Sylvie Guillem