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Le Monde, and questions to Sylvie Guillem

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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 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.


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I think you forget to speak about the other article on the deep of the problem saying that all dancers dance on physical problem. In the article, Marie-Agnès Gillot says "I have always feet problem" but when I'm on stage I forget all and dance.

I think it's dancer's mentality, it's shocking for someone who don't practise this art, but it could be understandable for someone who lives from this art. Dance is hard and all dancer know that, they know they will live with injury, with backage, feet age, and so on...

She had she dance on injury, and say " A dancer has always something wrong". Some day I discuss with an etoile of POB, who said, we always have "petits bobos" but we are use to dance.

Guillem is in the same case, she just said that she made like that, she speaks about her personal life, and she add at the end in a sentence you forget to translate that a Royal Ballet dancer make sign "a decharge" (sorry I don't know the english word for it" to dance on stage despite a tireless injury.

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Originally posted by katharine kanter

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 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.  


Sounds rather like the justification for burning witches at the stake. The witch was supposed to be grateful for release!:rolleyes:

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Here's a link to Sylvie Guillem's interview:


and a link to Dominique Frétard's article:


Frankly, I find some of Sylvie Guillem's replies not very clear (especially the quote at the end about the young Royal Ballet dancer with a broken metatarsal signing a release of liability (I'm not sure it's the right term because she wanted to continue dancing. It is followed by "qu'on arrête de me faire rire!" , i.e. "please stop making me laugh", but it's really hard to know what makes her laugh, and if she's criticizing the attitude of that dancer -probably not-, or the Royal Ballet's attitude, or something else...)

and her attitude a bit cynical. But perhaps the interview was too short to really say something interesting... I wonder what someone like Aurélie Dupont- who has been absent from the stage for monthes because of a serious injury, and might not come back before the next season- would have repllied to such questions!

Dominique Frétard's article is a bit weird. And some of the things she say seem unexact- for example do people really still put some raw meat in their point shoes?

:confused: And it somewhat seems that that topic is merely a way for her to criticize the "artificiality" of ballet in general (she seldom writes about ballet, and is far more interested in contemporary dance).

I think that the short interview of Philippe Sereni, the physical therapist of the company, at the end of the interview is interesting. And he insists on the fact that some of the health problems come from bad teaching methods and an incorrect knowledge of anatomy, and could be avoided. I think that a distinction should be made (and it isn't really made in the article) between "minor" physical problems which go away quickly, and serious ones which need to be treated and might endanger the dancer's health and career. Many dancers seem a bit too likely to ignore their injuries and to keep on dancing at any cost, and it can sadly lead to very bad results...

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Well, I have to say Miss Guillem is right about gymnastics. As I have already said I'm a former figure skater. I attented the french equivalent for the Children's Professional School in New York and some of the girls were doing gymnastics. One day, in grade 2 (7 years old) their coach got furious with them, and had them doing the uneven bars without their hands-protective equipements. The poor girls couln't write anymore and things like that were happening all the time . The coach has later been dismissed from his coaching position of the national team, and they closed the training center and opened a new one in Marseille with some new coaches, but nothing has really changed there. Even in the POB school kids aren't treated like they are in gymnastics. And for those who are sucessful, most of the time, they're finished about 18 because of injuries or/and puberty. I hope that can help to explain Miss Guillem's words

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Thanks for the explanation, cygneblanc! That sounds really frightening. Do you think it's a general problem with gymnastics, or only in some countries/ schools? Well, of course from that point of view life is much easier for the dance students... but it doesn't mean that it's easy and that "tout va bien pour le meilleur des mondes"...

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No Estelle, of course, life of ballet students and especially in France POB'ones is very, very difficult !

For gymnastics (and figure skating also) it is a general problem, but it is aggravated in some countries like Romania, Russia, and China. The romanian coach, Octavian Belu, has recently been accusated of both moral and physical harassments by some retired gymnasts, including some world champions and olympic medalists, especially after the death of 12 girl Alexandra Hucci (she officially died of an inborn heart disease, but the results of the autopsy are being kept secret). Another romanian girl died after her coach hit her. In the USA, Bella's Karoly's (former coach of Nadia Commanecci, who deserted Romania in the early 1980's and then had a very sucessful career in the States where he trained among many others 1984 all around olympic gold medalist Mary-Lou Retton, 1991 all around world champion Kim Zmeskal, Dominique Moceanu and Kerry Strug, members of the 1996 team who got a gold medal at the Atlanta Games) methods of training, were discussed during the 1996 olympic games, and in France methods of training were critized during the Elodie Lussac's case (what I found hypocritical in her father's saying is that actually he was a french national coach when she got injured and he coached her during most of her career.

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