American Ballet Theatre
by Colleen Boresta
June 20 mat, 2009 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York
“La Sylphide” is the oldest ballet still being danced today. I have regularly attended the ballet since 1980, and I have only seen “La Sylphide” five times (as compared to 35 times for “Swan Lake, 30 times for “Giselle”, etc.). American Ballet Theatre has not performed “La Sylphide” since 2000. Their current production is choreographed by August Bournonville, and staged by Erik Bruhn.
“La Sylphide” is the story of James, a wealthy Scottish landowner living in the early 19th century. On his wedding day he dreams of a sylph or fairy. Even after awakening, James still sees the sylph who entices him to follow her to her woodland kingdom. James’ cousin, Gurn, is in love with Effie, James’ fiancée. Gurn tries very hard to hide his feelings for Effie until James runs off with La Sylphide. Gurn is also very kind to Madge, an old witch/fortune teller, whom James has kicked out of his castle. Hating James for his treatment of her, Madge sees to it that James kills La Sylphide with a poisoned scarf. Madge also engineers the wedding of Effie and Gurn.
ABT’s 2009 “La Sylphide” is totally enchanting. I found myself as lost in the mists of Scotland as the hero, James. Due to an ankle injured suffered by principal dancer, Xiomara Reyes, the title role was danced by Hee Seo, still a member of the corps. (If my opinion, or that of many other ABT ballet goers is taken into account, she won’t be in the corps much longer.) Hee Seo’s sylph is sweet and loving, mischievous in a child-like way. She is a creature who seems to live in the air. Her every movement reminded me of the romantic lithographs I’ve seen of Marie Taglioni and Lucile Grahn in early 19th century productions of “La Sylphide”.
ABT’s “La Sylphide” is a Bournonville ballet, and the male danseur is challenged as much if not more than the ballerina. I’ve been watching the dvd of the Royal Danish Ballet’s production of “La Sylphide” with Nikolaj Hubbe and Lis Jepperson. To me, David Hallberg’s James is even better than Hubbe’s. Hallberg’s ballon is both light and explosive. His leg beats are quick and crisp. His entrechats sixes, leaps where the dancer’s legs constantly cross in the air, are thrilling. Hallberg’s acting is also first-rate. He is the perfect dreamer chasing after his ideal love, and in the process losing both that love and his life.
Daniil Simkin, as Gurn, doesn’t get to dance much. What dancing he does is unbelievably exciting. Simkin has tremendous elevation, and his jumps are also clean and precise. I’m especially impressed by Simkin’s acting. He inhabits the role of Gurn utterly. His mime is very clear, and he’s funny without overdoing it.
Gemma Bond is lovely as Effie, James’ fiancée, and Maria Bystrova is very realistic as Anna, James’ mother. The one disappointment is Victor Barbee’s two dimensional portrayal of the witch/fortune-teller, Madge. Barbee’s Madge seems more like a caricature than a convincing characterization. At times Barbee finds the humor in Madge, but that humor is rather coarse.
American Ballet Theatre’s “La Sylphide” is a beautiful production of a landmark ballet. I hope ABT keeps this “La Sylphide” in its repertory, and dances it regularly. “La Sylphide” is a work which delights audiences, both young and old. It needs to be performed as often as “Swan Lake” or “Giselle.”