Who stole my croissant

Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg

In Saturday’s Telegraph (Weekend)

Sylvie Guillem credit photographer Gilles Tapie - resized

Not a very tutu sort of person: ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem

I find out what Sylvie Guillem, the ballet dancer, gets up to at the weekend. What does she do on her rare days off? What kind of novels does she read? What scent does she wear? And why does she have a thing about Sardinian shepherds and peonies?

I was rather nervous about meeting the legendary ballet dancer, who was promoted to étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet at the dazzlingly young age of 19. She has the reputation for being difficult and uncooperative. The Royal Ballet’s former director Anthony Dowell nicknamed her ‘Mademoiselle Non‘ so I was expecting a prima donna.

We arranged to meet at the St Martin’s Lane Hotel near Leicester Square. I sat waiting in the echoey foyer on a strange animal print chair. Two people – a shaggy looking man and a tall, thin woman checked in – but I never for a moment guessed that one of them was Sylvie. From behind she looks like someone who sings in a cool, culty band. She’s very androgynous and bohemian.

The shaggy bear of a man, it transpired, is her long term partner, a photographer called Gilles Tapie, and I didn’t find Sylvie primadonna-like at all. She was very down to earth, highly intelligent, thoughtful and considered in her responses. And she was warm and likeable.

She has a reputation for being fiercely private and told me she was shy. I found myself fascinated by her. She was makeup free and has long, beautiful limbs, straight hennaed hair and a (naturally) unlined face. There were chunky Byzantine rings on her fingers but apart from that she wasn’t flamboyant – quite the reverse. I imagine people don’t give her a second look in the street, which is just as she likes it.

The story goes that (the openly gay) Rudolf Nuryev adored her to such a degree that he said she was the only woman he ever met that he might have married – ‘I’d switch back for Sylvie.’

I saw Sylvie dance Sacred Monsters with the dancer and choreographer Akram Khan a few months ago at the Colosseum. I was bracing myself for some spartan, very challenging contemporary ballet – and secretly longing for Swan Lake, tutus and Tchaikovsky – but I found Sacred Monsters magical and enchanting. I urge anyone to go and see it at Sadler’s Wells in November.

Sylvie Guillem will be performing in Sacred Monsters with Akram Khan at Sadler’s Wells from November 25-29.

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