I'm reading some of the reviews of Mark Morris' Sylvia at the Lincoln Center Festival and the different perspectives are interesting.
As a regular of SFB I really liked Sylvia when it first premiered in SF. Especially in context of other (oft recycled, may I say) repertoire programs, to me Morris' ballet came as a breath of fresh air. In my opinion, he addressed or at least raised issues that are often swept under the rug of traditional classical works--(homo)sexuality, ugliness, feminism, etc. The plot is no less shallow than most other "boy falls in love with beautiful girl" story ballets, although the character development is deeper in some stories than others. But since the premise of many ballets is based on the dainty girl with a pretty face (insert pantomime here) being sought after by a prince or a manly man, this rather modern story of a strong single gal and a kind-hearted shepherd was a welcome change.
Choreographically, in terms of style, I think this production is difficult to judge from a fixed school of thought. If I understand correctly, Helgi Tomasson had asked Morris, a modern dance choreographer, to create a full-length ballet. In that sense, it was not surprising to me that the choreography was a mix of classical and less-than-classical movements. I did not go see Sylvia expecting a perfectly classical miracle. With respect to choice of choreography, certainly, there were moments in the ballet that were slow or seemed to lack meaningful dancing. But quite frankly, I have experienced much worse in some full-length productions put on by SFB and other ballet companies. Harsh but true.
What did strike me about Sylvia is that the select choreography Morris used were extremely technically difficult. Just taking the slow inside pique attitude double/triple turns into plie that both Sylvia and Aminta execute, for example, that is not a typical ballet turn. Also, in Act I Sylvia must do consecutive grand jetes while changing direction and inserting one and a half turns in between (again, not usually done), all to fairly quick music. The Act III pas de deux contains so many unusual positions in promenades. And Aminta's solo variation is one technical feat after another with no break. In essence, I found that Morris' choreography requires the dancer to be truly "on" and centered at all times; otherwise the movements look poorly executed and painfully bad. Some of the dancers at this year's performances unfortunately showed you just how difficult these steps were.
I went to see Sylvia again this year but sadly, the energy level, cohesiveness, and the almost tangible spirit of Morris present at the first SF premier weren't there. The comic timing was often off and the corp dancers did not seem to mesh as well either. In this sense, it is disappointing that the first timers to this ballet had to see the duller production.
I've never seen Ashton's or Neumeier's (sp?) versions, so I am curious to see other takes on this ballet.