French dancer. A protégé of Rudolph Nureyev, she performed with the Paris Opera Ballet 1981–89 and as a principal guest artist of the Royal Ballet 1989–2006. Known for her exceptional flexibility, elongated extensions, and acrobatic leaps, she performed a wide range of both classical and contemporary roles. By 2006 she had moved from ballet to contemporary dance. She retired from the stage at the end of 2015.
Guillem joined the Paris Opera Ballet at the age of 16 and became its youngest-ever étoile (principal dancer) after her performance as the swan queen in Swan Lake three years later. She created the leading role in William Forsythe's (1949– )
contemporary ballet In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in 1987. The following year she made her London debut in the title role of Giselle with the Royal Ballet. In the mid 2000s she ventured into more experimental and modern dance roles, for example collaborating with dancer-choreographer Russell Maliphant (1961– ) in Broken Fall (2003; Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production) and Push (2005), both at Sadler's Wells.
She was born in Paris and as a child was trained as a gymnast by her mother, a gymnastics teacher. She entered the Paris Opera Ballet School at the age of 11, joined the corps de ballet in 1981, and made her first solo appearance, as the Queen of the Dryads in Nureyev's version of Don Quixote, in 1983. The same year she won the gold medal at the prestigious Varna International Ballet Competition. She received the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award in 2015.