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Los Angeles Ballet

'La Sylphide'

by Kathy Lee Scott

May 16, 2009 -- Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Redondo Beach, California

Los Angeles Ballet's "La Sylphide" gave co-Artistic Director Colleen Neary a chance to shine. And shine she did at the May 16, 2009, opening of the company's last show in its current season at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.

Neary portrayed the malicious Madge for the full-length story ballet first choreographed in 1836 by August Bournonville for the Royal Danish Ballet. That company has performed the ballet every year since its inception.

Co-Artistic Director Thordal Christensen staged the performance, preserving the original choreography, which included a lot of miming that alternated with dancing. The company performed to a recording of the score by Herman Severin Løvenskjold.

Using scenery from Houston Ballet, the story begins with James (Eddy Tovar) asleep on the eve of his marriage to Effy (Grace McLoughlin). He awakes to find the Sylph (Corina Gill) in the room with him. She flits around, teasing him with her smile, then disappears up the chimney.

Gill dances the ethereal sylph like she was born for the role. Quick feet, lyrical arms, beautiful smile -- it's understandable why she entrances James.

The appearance of the creature forces James to ponder whether he should marry his fiancée Effy or not. However, a rival for the village girl, Gurn (James Li), propels James forward with preparations for the wedding.

The couple's friends and family arrive to decorate the hall. James pulls out a long piece of material in the same tartan as his kilt. He wraps it around Effy in affirmation of their impending nuptials.

Unobserved by the audience, Neary settled on the hearth in her costume: stringy white hair, drab-colored skirt and blouse under a white apron. Kudos to the makeup person who painted her face to appear wrinkled and aged. Lit with a bright blue spotlight, Neary personified the witch, Madge, as both an evil and cantankerous old lady.

When the wedding party discovers Madge in the hall, James tries to throw her out. Effy and the girlfriends plead to let her stay and read their fortunes. James relents only to hear Madge tell Effy she is to marry Gurn, not him.

Neary infused her role with great characterizations. Before she reads the guests' palms, she insisted on two shots of liquor. She held out the glass and glared at Gurn to fill it -- twice. She shuddered after the first swallow, which the audience enjoyed.

When her character had to walk, she didn't stride -- she hobbled as if she had arthritic knees.

James throws Madge out of the hall, which enrages her. The rest of the party departs. When James is alone, the Sylph returns and mimes that she and he must be together if she is to remain alive. She professes her love for him, and after a short consideration, James agrees to stay with her in the forest.

Before the sylph departs, Gurn returns and spots them. He alerts the wedding party to James' betrayal in a funny mimicry of the Sylph's bourrées and port de bras. No one believes him, especially when he goes to uncover the creature hidden beneath James' tartan on a chair but she has vanished.

A large, energetic group dance ensues with partnered pairs hopping in Scottish folk style to the allegro tempo in lines and rings. With the entire company on stage, it felt cramped and crowded.

Interspersed between the group festivities, Gurn and James dance a short competition, with Li jumping high in his assemblé battu and Tovar covering a lot of space in his leaps and beaten jumps.

Throughout the scene, the Sylph leaps across the stage, enticing James to follow her. He would fall out of the assembled dance to dash after the Sylph, then return to Effy in the ensemble.

At one point, the spotlights highlighted James and the Sylph, who snatches Effy's wedding ring from him and slips it on her finger. She evades James' attempt  to retrieve it and leads him out of the hall to the forest.

Once James abandons Effy at the altar, the corps members effectively talk among themselves and dash to various parts of the hall to search for him. In other words, they react like real people, which brought the performance to life.

The second act starts with Madge stirring a huge cauldron to which four other witches (Alexander Forck, Craig Hall, Alexander Real, Tian Tan) contribute ingredients. From the pot, Madge pulls a piece of fabric infused with the poisonous brew.

Here, Neary reveals the witch's evil side in her planning to rid the forest of the Sylph in revenge for James' ill treatment of her.

In another part of the forest, the sylphs gather to welcome their member back as well as James. As the First Sylph, Melissa Barak began with a bourrée entrance to a slow promenade in arabesque followed by a penchée. When the rest join her, some of the company had difficulty holding their arabesque pliée.

Gill, as the Sylph, dances for James with sauté arabesques, thrown kisses, and bright smiles. He gets his turn, executing his petite batterie cleanly. The two dance the same steps but in parallel, not as a true couple. This gave the impression that she was still elusive though close.

One of the demi-soloists, Katie Tomer, delighted the audience with her sweet smile, which showed how much she enjoyed dancing. She brightened the mood of the scene.

Frantic wedding party members disrupt the idyllic scene, scattering the sylphs when Gurn and other men dash onstage. After Gurn finds James' cap, he meets Madge, who snatches it from him. Effy arrives, and Madge pushes Gurn to propose to her. Effy reluctantly agrees and departs with her new fiancé.

James runs into Madge, who tells him wrapping the elusive Sylph with the fabric is the only way to capture her. He believes her. But when he does, the Sylph staggers under its weight and her wings drop off.

Gill captured the quality and fragility of an injured creature with her weaker steps and drooping arms. Where once she stepped onto pointe with confidence, now she stuttered her shoe forward. At one point, she outstretches her hands as if she is blind. James grabs her cold hands but only the ring remains in his hands as the other sylphs carry her off.

Gurn and Effy marry and James is left alone in the woods, bereaved at his loss.

Throughout the performance, James and the Sylph rarely touch each other. Only when James wraps her with the fabric do they come physically close to each other, but it is too late.

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