x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Life Lessons: Sylvie Guillem

The ballet dancer shares her life philosophies.

The French ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem CBE was a member of the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London before branching out into contemporary dance. She shared her wisdom with us when she was in Abu Dhabi performing at the Abu Dhabi Festival.

1. Discipline comes from within. I learnt that from gymnastics. It was a game, playing around, always related to pleasure. But from that I got discipline; that became part of it. If no one imposes it on you it does not feel like discipline. Dancing was different, I had to do it the way it was; there was not much open-mindedness. If I were teaching children now, I would tell them that discipline has to come from them and not from me.

2. Charm is a gift. You can't learn charm, no one can teach you that. When you have it naturally, use it. It is something that my first mentor, Rudolf Nureyev, had so much of, and everyone was in love with him. His character was so striking; he imposed himself everywhere he went. It was incredible seeing the effect he had on people - he had such presence. And that is charm.

3. You have to make your own choices. Don't just do things because others tell you to. If someone else has told you to do something, it is no longer a choice. You need to find the "why" yourself. Responsibility enhances your performance. If other people are making all the decisions, then where is your input?

4. Don't be put off by youth; let them try. I was lucky enough to be an étoile (principal dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet) when I was 19, and so I could make mistakes and take responsibility early on. A lot of the time you have to wait to gain experience but by the time you have waited you might have run out of time. When you are young is when you are most excited and you have the conviction to show who you are.

5. Make standing up for what you believe a way of living. I try to do it in a decent way, with honesty and respect. I don't like too many compromises. Although in the world of classical dance someone who says "non" is a revolutionary. But I have learnt to be a little more diplomatic with age.


As told to Helena Frith Powell