Sylvie Guillem

February 23, 1965 - Paris (France)

Sylvie Guillem is a brilliant French dancer and one of the youngest étoiles in the history of the Paris Opera. Come and discover her work on!


Sylvie Guillem was born in Paris in 1965. During her childhood, Sylvie practiced top level gymnastics, then, at the age of 11, she began her studies at the dance school of the Paris Opera. The dancer was noted for her extraordinary physical abilities: her flexibility and her endurance, as well as her captivating stage presence. In 1981, at the age of 16, Sylvie Guillem joined the troupe of the Paris Opera and her career took off in spectacular fashion: in 1983, she won the gold medal at the Varna International Dance Competition in Bulgaria, one of the most ancient dance competitions in the world. The following year, Sylvie was appointed first dancer for a very short time: in fact, 5 days later, on December 29, 1984, she was appointed étoile of the Paris Opera by director Rudolf Noureev. Sylive Guillem was only 19 years old! Her exceptional nomination, considering her age, was announced at the end of her interpretation of the role of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake.

At the Paris Opera, Sylvie Guillem primarily interpreted roles from the classical repertoire. Thirsting for freedom, and despite being loved by the French public, she decided to quit the Paris Opera in 1989 (which could not help but be scandalous) to embark on an international career. Sylvie took her career into her own hands  and she started dancing regularly at the London Royal Ballet, where she was guest soloist. She danced on highly prestigious stages with ballet troupes all around the world. These include, among others, the American Ballet Theater and the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. During this period, Sylvie Guillem shifted toward the contemporary repertoire. Sylvie also participated in the premieres of many works, together with well-known choreographers such as Maurice Béjart (her interpretation of Ravel’s Boléro, choreographed by Béjart, will count among the great roles of her repertoire), William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Akram Khan, and Russel Maliphant. 

In addition to her contribution to the contemporary ballet repertoire, Sylvie Guillem shined in her interpretation of the best roles of classical ballet, especially in Rudolf Noureev’s choreography. Her performances in Raymonda, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Giselle, Don Quixote, and Cendrillon come to mind. During her career, Sylvie also danced in more uncharted classics: Les Deux Pigeons by André Messager, for example. Sylvie Guillem danced with illustrious partners, including two others protégés of Rudolf Noureev, Manuel Legris and Nicolas Le Riche. She received many honors and prizes during her career in the best operas in the world, and in 1994, she received the Légion d’honneur. 

In 2015, the year of her 50th birthday, Sylvie Guillem, a soloist of the Paris Opera, ended her dancing career. To mark  the occasion, she launched into one last international tour titled Life In Progress (that you can find in this terrific documentary), during which she interpreted choreographies from the contemporary ballet repertoire. After the end of her career, Sylvie Guillem devoted herself to the ecological cause.