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Sparks Fly as Ballerina Realises Sacred Monsters

Fest 08: Sacred Monsters
Date 01 November 2007


Sparks Fly as Super Ballerina Realises Her Sacred Monsters

A mouthwatering collaboration of styles will see two of the world’s star exponents of ballet and contemporary dance, Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan, unite to bring their radical new work Sacred Monsters to the NZ International Arts Festival stage for two performances only.

Parisian-born Guillem - the prima ballerina of the 21st-century – has teamed up with Akram Khan, a master of the traditional Indian kathak dance, to create this sensuous new cross-cultural work that has seen them become the toast of the dance world from London to America to Asia.

A French national treasure and the most famous ballerina in Europe, Guillem was catapulted onto the world stage when her mentor Ruldolph Nureyev announced her, at the age of 19, as the ‘youngest-ever Étoile’ with the Paris Opéra Ballet. If Nureyev changed forever the audience's expectations about the male dancer, Guillem has had the same impact on ballerinas.

When she left the Paris Opéra for The Royal Ballet, French newspaper Le Monde called Guillem's defection “a national catastrophe”. It was even debated in the French Parliament. Celebrated as Principal Guest Artist for her professional brilliance and stunning six o'clock leg-lifts, Guillem and her dazzling performances continue to generate the same excitement reserved for royalty. Retired from classical ballet, Guillem still amazes with immense strength and lyricism in her contemporary work.

Akram Khan is one of the most gifted choreographers and dancers of his generation. “There’s a phenomenon on the dance scene and his name is Akram Khan” screamed the Evening Standard in 1999, “startlingly original and beautiful” said the Observer.

Born in London in 1974, his mother introduced him as a child to drama and Bengali folk dancing to help with his hyperactivity. Studying at seven under the great kathak performer Sri Pratap Pawar, he later became Pawar's disciple.

Challenging the boundaries of these two great dance forms, Sacred Monsters, sponsored by the Todd Corporation, showcases Guillem’s and Khan’s individual physicality and expression resulting in an honest performance examining intimate moments of their lives.

Coined from a nineteenth-century term, “monstres sacrés” was used to describe the high level of worship for the divas of the day; the forerunner of the modern celebrity cult – something both these performers have achieved.
Always the eternal explorer Guillem recently said, "Working with new people is what life is about for me - it is like confronting a new country, a new vision."

Khan also relishes new opportunities, “Working with Sylvie Guillem is an exciting new challenge, it gives me the opportunity to explore another classical dance language with one of its greatest exponents, and as a result, creating a situation that will unearth the things that are most often lost between the classical and modern world."

On the exploration of a different dance form in Sacred Monsters, Guillem displays her trademark candidness; "I am a classical dancer. I have been trained as a classical dancer, but I cannot say that my 'religion' is a style, a technique or a tradition. What I can say is that the 'place' where I perform, whatever style I perform, feels strongly a 'sacred place.' The stage … a monster … my sacred monster."

This New Zealand premiere is a major coup for the Festival - sparks will fly at St James Theatre on 7 and 8 March 2008 at 8pm.

Praise for Sacred Monsters
“Towards the end of the evening, Sylvie Guillem locks her long legs around Akram Khan's waist and leans backwards. Both raise their arms in graceful shapes, and for minutes on end their upper bodies mirror each other in complex, changing patterns so that they become like a living statue of the Hindu god Shiva, the purifier who destroys in order to create. It is an extraordinary, spellbinding moment and a fitting image of this collaboration between two remarkable dancers.”

…..“Khan shows off his prowess in traditional Kathak, a display of fluidity, speed and whirring power that is so sensational it takes the breath away.” Sarah Crompton Daily Telegraph Sacred Monsters at Sadler's Wells

“They react to each other with an intimacy that is hard to resist and towards the end, when they merge into each other's dance languages, their exchanges also become very beautiful.”
Judith Mackrell, The Guardian. Thursday September 21, 2006

“…the meeting point of two great artists in a shared language born of childhood passion and a lifetime of adventure.” Times Online

“There's playful contact, intimacy, even a suggestion of romance, but it all seems to come from what Khan and Guillem love about dancing.”
Lewis Segal, LA Times 4 May 2007


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