CriticalDance Forum

Bournonville Festival - La Sylphide
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Author:  ksneds [ Mon Jun 06, 2005 8:35 am ]
Post subject:  Bournonville Festival - La Sylphide

For discussion of performances and other thoughts...

Author:  lalleglad [ Sat Jun 11, 2005 3:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Solos are great, but ...

I went to see La Sylphide on Thursday 9'th (also with The King's Volunteers on Amager) and I have now seen the Saturday show on Danish TV DR1.

One thing that puzzles me and that I have never before asked about or seen answered anywhere is the following:

Why is it so difficult for the dancers to synchronize their dance? Sometimes it really looks like they aren't even listening to the same music.

Individual performances look great, especially the men seem to have enough surplus strength to look particular elegant when they jump, but when several dancers (men or women) dance in unison they seem to have great trouble landing simultanously.

Have they not practiced enough with the actual orchestra playing the music, is it the typical Danish anarchistic way of thinking, they just aren't better, or am I missing something?

It may seem artistic to some people, I don't know, but it messes up my impression of it, and I am puzzled because of the supposedly high standards of the Royal Danish ballet?

Author:  ksneds [ Sat Jun 11, 2005 7:28 pm ]
Post subject: 


I did not see the "La Sylphide"/"King's Guard on Amager" performance so can't comment on that, but was present tonight.

To my eye, the unison look excellent tonight. I don't think you're ever going to see the dancers completely in unision - different body shapes and sizes make for slighly different movements, but what's important is that they are not too far off and that they are together stylistically. Complete unison would be ideal, but in the real world, perfection is a rarity.

Things did get a bit crazy in "Napoli" tonight, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime version, with many more dancers onstage than normal. By the time the Tarantella started, there was barely enough room for the solos. But I thought the pas de six was stunning - especially the unison between the three women in some of the sections.

Pehaps tonight, it could have been the camera angles - you tend to notice unison problems more when you are viewing it from above or from farther away.

But overall, with bigs corps, unison is not easy. Again, it's matter of getting enough time in rehearsal, and then getting enough time in rehearsal with the conductor and orchestra. It's not easy scheduling the ballet and the orchestra together, so in the end, there may only be a few full-orchestra run throughs before a new production or revival.


Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Jun 11, 2005 11:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi lallegrad and welcome to CriticalDance. I didn't see any of the performances, but you make an interesting comment about the unison work; have you seen other companies which impressed you more in this respect?

I have read reports of Japanese corps having as near perfect unison as is possible and it could be argued that this accords with their national characteristic of not standing out - a sharp contrast to my understanding of the Danish ethos of individuality.

Author:  AnaM [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 2:55 am ]
Post subject: 

La Sylphide is, of all of Bournonville ballets, the most famous and widely performed by companies around the world. The secret for the success of this ballet is, first of all, a historical one. La Sylphide was first performed in 1836, with Lucile Grahm as the spirited creature. Thus, the ballet remains the oldest in the repertoire of any ballet company, as the original Sylphide dated 1831 and with choreography by Filippo Taglioni for his daughter Marie, was lost from the repertoire. Everybody knows that the original Sylphide started in a way the movement that today we know as Romantic Ballet and that this movement was going to be the starting point for ballet to become an established art form within the performing arts. Therefore, the importance of Bournonville’s ballet can never be underestimated. Bournonville had seen Taglioni’s interpretation in Paris and was very influenced by her interpretation when creating his own version of the ballet.

The structure of the piece is also paradigmatic of an era. Divided in two acts, the first one featured the colour and folk tradition of national dances, Scottish in this instance, and the second act introduced the other-wordly element in the story, the forests, the sylphs and the dream like quality of the story.

The Royal Danish Ballet has kept this ballet in the repertoire since its opening and credit must be given to a company that has managed to keep a ballet for such a long period of time. Recordings from the beginning of the twentieth century also show that the choreography has been maintained in an astonishing form.

On this occasion, the ballet was receiving its 783rd performance! And the leads were danced by Thomas Lund as James, Gudrun Bojesen as La Sylphide, Tina Hojlund as Effy and Nicolai Hansen as Gurn. Of course, especial mention must be given to the two character artists appearing in the ballet; Kirsten Simone as Anna and Lis Jeppesen as Madge.

The company was presenting their recent new version as devised by Nicolai Hübbe in 2003. It basically sticks to the original concept and choreography, or at least to the one that Hübbe used to dance during his time with the company, except for a few minor changes in the first act that, to be honest, I found unnecessary and dramatically confusing. I especially found extremely puzzling the moment when James is dancing with the Sylph and Gurn enters the room and, apparently sees them. La Sylphide goes to the armchair and James hides her while Gurn calls for the rest of the household to come and reveals the empty chair to his and James’s shock. He then tries to explain to the rest of the guests that he has seen a winged creature in the room and everybody takes him for a fool. Hübbe has changed that scene and when Gurn reveals the empty chair, there is no shock in either him or James. The mime has been cut out and the proceedings continue. Apparently, the reason for this is that maybe Gurn does not see the Sylph, as this may be nothing but an imaginary vision of James’s. A good concept, but not one that works dramatically onto the stage. Why does Gurn call the rest of the people in the house to witness? Why does he reveal the empty armchair?

There were a few more changes like this, but overall the production is very similar to the one the Royal Danish Ballet used to dance before.

When it comes to the actual interpretations, I found Thomas Lund’s James magnificent. What a wonderful dancer Lund is! Not only does he have the dramatic depth to make the role his own, but he also has the Bournonville technique and style at his best. It is not only that he jumps high and beats well, it is the way he accompanies his movements with the head, his eyes, his hands, the total easiness of his manner…

Bojesen’s Sylph was more problematic for me. She was just too earthy a creature. I was told that that was the originality of her interpretation and I can see that, but in a production that apparently seems to emphasise the fact that James maybe simply daydreaming, I had difficulty in accepting this interpretation. However, and having said that, her second act was very good and her death scene was extremely moving.

As for the character roles, Lis Jeppesen was an evil witch that, though not as charismatic as Sorella Englund in her breathtaking interpretation as recorded in the eighties, manages to make her final scene charged with hatred and power. Kirsten Simone as Anna, a minor role, was simply magnificent. She only had to walk and your eyes followed her everywhere, marking a unique artist on stage. Hansen as Gurn had the technical ability, but not the characterisation of the role and Hojlund as Effy was very good, very earthy and charming.

Just a word about the female corps the ballet in the second act, as it appeared a bit out of synchronisation with each other and not very technically strong. Very disappointing as a whole, as it does not make justice to the soloists and principals in the company. It seems the company is very tired because of the pace of the festival, but, even then, there is cause for concern in a corps that lacks the homogeneity and technical strength that this one showed.

On the other hand, the company’s interpretation of the Gigue in the first act was fantastic. It shows Bournonville’s masterful command of folk dance, in this case Scottish dance, at its best.

Finally, the new costumes and scenery were fine, though not a major improvement from the previous production. The forest in the second act is really ugly and it looks more in keeping with a cartoon rather than Romantic ballet.

Overall a good performance, though perhaps due to the high expectations created by the festival, not a truly great one.

Author:  ksneds [ Wed Jun 15, 2005 8:06 am ]
Post subject: 

To clarify...

In this version, Gurn cannot see the sylph. So Gurn thinks James has gone quite mad, when he's 'talking' and moving around with the sylph. However James does not know that Gurn can't see the sylph, so hides her.

Gurn cannot understand why James is trying to use his scarf to hide something on the chair, but thinks there must be something under there. So I believe he calls everyone else in to see Jame's odd behvior (he ya'll come look, the groom is dancing with an imaginary friend). After all, he wants Effy for himself, so it helps him to make James look bad. And he reveals the empty to chair to make the point that James is going bonkers - 'look, James though there was something in this chair - and there's no-one in it.

I think however, that the existing mime isn't always done as well as it might be - my memory is that Morten Eggert was more effective in this section.

I actually think it dramatically makes more sense, because if Gurn can see the sylph, everyone else must think him mad too. And then why would Effy be permitted (or want) to marry him then. A guy who sees imaginary fairies isn't high on the list of desirable mates. And it makes James' odd behavior all the more mystifying to everyone else.

I saw 'La Sylphide' about two weeks before in late May, and the corps was spectacular, so I would not take this an indication of their ability. The RDB is not a company known for complete synchronization, and there is a huge variety in body types within the corps. They aren't ever going to be like the POB or Kirov corps, with rows of totally in synch dancers.


Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Jun 22, 2005 9:51 am ]
Post subject: 

La Sylphide
Royal Danish Ballet
Det Kongelige Teater
9th June 2005 (with Kings Volunteers on Amager)

The first time I saw “La Sylphide” it was danced by the Royal Danish Ballet and with the possible exception of a POB performance, that first time hasn’t been matched since. So it was a wonderful experience for me to sit in that beautiful theatre in Copenhagen and see the ballet where it was first performed, even if visually it was not the most attractive or the most apt version I have seen.

Perhaps of all the ballets I saw during the Bournonville Festival this, the one I am most familiar with, has proved the most difficult to write about. The ballet completely revolves around the central character of the Sylphide herself and on this occasion she was danced by Caroline Cavallo; a dancer totally new to me. Well, not quite new as I had caught a glimpse of her in rehearsal the day before and what a heart-stopping glimpse it was to see this creature of the air with her perfect arms of unbelievable softness and her total absorption in her work, oblivious of her audience of the world’s ballet press in what I imagine is usually a private working environment.

When I saw Ms Cavallo’s name on the cast sheet the next day I was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her in the role of the Sylphide as I rightly guessed she possesses all the qualities the role requires. So why is it so difficult to write about what I saw? Because her performance was so intensely moving and because of the spiritual quality of her dancing that makes any description of it inadequate. “La Sylphide” is such a well known ballet, certainly the most well known of Bournonville’s works, that everyone seems to have a pre conceived idea of how the role should be danced, but in the future, for me at any rate, all the performances I see will be overshadowed by my memory of Caroline Cavallo. Frankly I was astonished to discover that Ms Cavallo isn’t a Dane, she is in fact American by birth, but watching her proves that the Bournonville style can be assimilated successfully by an adult dancer.

Cavallo’s sylph is very playful, and slightly arch in the beginning; when she teases James you feel she’s done this kind of thing before. As her partner Mads Blangstrup makes a rather stolid James, not the sort of Scotsman liable to run off after a supernatural being, or indeed to believe in such creatures in the first place; he looks as much exasperated by the sylph as beguiled. In the role of Gurn, Morten Eggert danced with brio and was clearly so besotted with James’s neglected Effie that in the end you couldn’t help thinking that the right man got the girl.

James of course ends with nothing, only an implied madness after he inadvertently kills his sylph. Cavallo’s death scene was the most heart breaking I’ve ever witnessed: after her wings have fallen off and she starts to go blind she reaches out to the audience with a gesture so sad and lovely that it brought tears to my eyes. She is the only ballerina I’ve seen who has transformed this rather delicate work into a tragedy.

Aspects of the production bothered me as I felt that the wild Scottish highlands had been inappropriately prettified and the witches in particular didn’t put across the sense of evil that I’ve seen in other versions. And if the corps de ballet didn’t possess clockwork precision, then it didn’t worry me because at the heart of the work was that transcendent performance by Caroline Cavallo – a thing of beauty to be long remembered.

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