fri 19/07/2024

PUSH, Guillem/Maliphant, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

PUSH, Guillem/Maliphant, London Coliseum

PUSH, Guillem/Maliphant, London Coliseum

An astonishing evening from three dance world greats

Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in the duet PUSH (choreographed by Maliphant)© Johan Persson

Last night’s performance of PUSH at the London Colisem left me exhilarated and downcast in equal measure. Exhilarated because dancer Sylvie Guillem, dancer/choreographer Russell Maliphant and lighting genius Michael Hulls together create the Holy Grail of dance, a blend of intelligence, talent and charisma so stunning and convincing that it seems to trascend description and become sacramental.

And downcast because this run is the last of PUSH in London, and so for most of us the last time we’ll ever see it, or perhaps even see Guillem or Maliphant perform.

Rarely has the transience of dance as an art form seemed so unfair. Virginia Woolf’s novels sit on shelves, and Fra Filippo Lippi’s paintings hang in galleries, but the masterpieces created by Guillem, Maliphant and Hulls exist only for the brief minutes – 60 in this case – that they’re on stage.

Sylvie Guillem in Shift by Russell Maliphant, lighting design by Michael HullsIn Solo, Guillem (pictured right) is lit from above in tones first of ochre and copper, then of icy blue, and there’s a distant, introspective mood to her isolation under the lights, as if we’re seeing her down a long tunnel. The recorded flamenco guitar-playing of Carlos Montoya has the haunting air of an old movie soundtrack, with feet brushing softly under the guitar melody like the crackling of scratched film. Guillem's movements are a mixture of intense dance – whirling so the hem of her floaty shirt spins out in the sleek downward-planing curves of a corkscrew, or showing that gymnast’s flexibility in exreme extensions of arm and and leg – and stillness. Sometimes she just walks, in silence, that unmistakable, bobbing-shouldered, almost casual walk of hers, and still keeps 2,500 people breathing shallowly, riveted on her.

Shift (pictured below left) is an ensemble solo for Maliphant and several shadows of him magicked up by Michael Hulls's lighting: Maliphant's t'ai chi-inspired slow grace is echoed in duplicate or triplicate by smoky silhouettes. These float on the bleached backcloth like Matisse cut-outs, charged equally with stillness and with controlled kinetic energy. It is mesmerising.

Rusell Maliphant in Shift, his own solo, lit by Michael HullsTwo, which has taken several forms over the years, is here a slow-burning duet for Guillem and a column of light, dully gold like incense smoke over candles. Andy Cowton’s score pulses insistently on the eardrums, like an underwater heartbeat, and as she gradually speeds up, her hands, feet and elbows begin to scythe through the bright perimeter of the square like goldfish darting in a dark pond, a series of rapid gleams that die as slowly on the retina as the incandescent trails of a fire juggler.

One thinks of The Matrix and all the fuss that was made in the early 2000s about “flo-mo” in that and films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonPUSH reveals that all those filmmakers were trying to achieve with digital effects and hi-tech cameras was the old magic of stagecraft which Hulls, Maliphant and Guillem elevate to art: conjuring awe from darkness, light, and the astonishing grace of dancers.

Dance is so much a young person’s game and art form that we rarely get the pleasure of quivering in the gravitational pull of an older performer. Guillem (49) and Maliphant (53) remind us what a sadness that is: both of them possess a presence on stage and an experienced wisdom in their artistic decisions and in their performance that impress the spectator deeply. We feel that they know exactly why they are there and what they are doing.

This sense of purpose and intelligence is reflected in Push, the duet for them both that closes the evening. Too many duets for a man and a woman can’t get past the idea of a romantic entanglement, be it happy or troubled, but PUSH is miles from that set of clichés – nothing in Guillem or Maliphant’s handling of each other has anything to do with gender, except the formal contrast between her light frame and his more solid one. Often he is carrying her, but it’s not the erotic gymnastics of a MacMillan pas de deux: Maliphant is a St Christopher figure, carrying Guillem with a reverent, sacral strength, and Guillem’s poise on his shoulders is equally strong, and charged. They extend arms and and touch palms as if passing all the secrets of the world through that contact.

I find myself tempted to rhapsodise about PUSH for hours, probably as a reaction to its impermanence – as if by writing I can capture and keep its essence. When I was watching it, though, I took almost no notes, and not because I was too rapt to remember, but because it seemed as pointless as taking notes during Holy Communion. You can’t capture it in any other medium because it is what it is, itself and complete, only in its own medium.

Fortunately, there are still tickets available for another four performances at the Coliseum, so you can dispense with my shadowy words and go experience the full force of it yourself. This one truly is unmissable.

It's the old magic of stagecraft which Hulls, Maliphant and Guillem elevate to art: conjuring awe from darkness, light, and astonishing grace


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters