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Royal Ballet

'Sylvia'

by Ana Abad-Carles

January 24, 2008 -- Royal Opera House, London

The Royal Ballet presented their revival of Frederick Ashton’s “Sylvia” as part of their season. I saw the cast with Zenaida Yanowsky as Sylvia, David Makhateli as Aminta and Gary Avis as Orion.

“Sylvia” is one of those ballets that choreographers must find highly appealing, if only for the music by Léo Delibes that has really beautiful passages. It certainly inspired Ashton to excel, especially in his choreography for the Nymph.

Many critics find the story totally ridiculous. However, although it is not a masterpiece of invention and coherence, there is something about the development of the main character that is touching. It is interesting that there are no female choreographers attempting to give their vision of this woman who undergoes such a peculiar journey of self-discovery.

Yanowsky obviously relished the opportunity to give Sylvia as many layers of interpretation as possible, and her transition from Amazonian to heartbroken nymph was rich and well developed. Her entrance was triumphant and daring, her movements big and majestic, responding effectively to the music and choreographic evolutions with understanding and clear phrasing. Her downfall through Eros’s revenge (making her fall in love… I have always found this point fascinating!!) was subtle and contained. Her bourrées were beautifully executed, especially if one considers that Yanowsky’s feet are not her most expressive feature.

From then on, Yanowsky simply excelled. Her execution of the pas de deux – one of the most beautiful Ashton choreographed – was musical and technically faultless. (Marianela Núñez in a previous cast was outstanding in this part of the ballet and thoroughly deserved the ovation she received at the end of it!)

Makhateli’s Aminta was not as layered as his female counterpart. Though technically correct and a good partner, Makhateli should really try to delineate some characterisation in the story, especially when competing with such a fiery character as that of Orion. Avis was good in this role, but Thiago Soares a couple of nights before gave this character such a presence and passion that Avis’s interpretation suffered in comparison.

The role of Eros was danced by Joshua Tuifua who managed to hold the viewer’s attention and execute his variation in the last act with beautiful sense of line.

As for the rest of the company, as tends to be the case with so many of the Royal Ballet performances, there were moments when more rehearsals would have helped to get the ensemble dancing in unison, especially in the opening number for the fauns and nymphs.

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