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La Sylphideinterpretations of Madge


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#1 innopac

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 12:48 PM

This question is based on the dvd of La Sylphide with Sorella Englund as Madge.

The moment I am wondering about is after Madge resuscitates James and he dies from his grief. To me the look on Madge's face, at that point, is one of almost horror at the realization of what she has done. And yet when I look up various descriptions of the story they talk about Madge exulting in her victory. For me Leigh Witchel's phrase in a previous post "ambivalent triumph" expresses best the closing scene.

I was also interested to read Alexandra Tomalonis's article La Sylphide Restored where she writes: "There were suggestions in the late 20th century that Madge is really in love with James, or is a Sylph who has lost her wings." Although I didn't feel in this production that Madge was in love with James, it seems to me, at this point she understands the evil she has committed. And in that realization the evil all the more powerful.

Does anyone else see that moment of regret in Madge's face? How do you interpret the final scene?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 01:55 PM

I never had a sense of regret from Englund's Madge. I always got the feeling that she had been scorned by men all her life and was taking her revenge on this one, who had insulted her -- but also rejected her. (I never asked Englund this, so I don't know what her intentions are, I hasten to add.) She spits at James, and I don't think someone would do that if they were feeling regrets. Her final gesture is definitely triumph -- the raised arms. The other Madge of this time was Kirsten Simone, outlaw to Englund's outcast, and she was definitely triumphant. (I add that because during this period, the ballets were directed, in the way that plays were directed, and the casts were usually in sync.)


The idea that Madge and the Sylph were sisters, that Madge was in love with James, etc., comes from Danish critics rather than dancers -- or at least had at the time of that filming.

How do others read this scene?

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 04:59 PM

I've always liked interpretations that are Ratso Madgeo. When James initially asks her what she's doing sitting at his hearth, she takes "HEY! I AM SITTIN' HERE!" I prefer it to be not Madge as a witch so much as a person who has been denied hospitality in a friendly house, which obviously has it in plenty to be offered, especially on a happy occasion. So it goes to the relentless deserts of James, who, like the men of Sodom, wished to violate the custom of hospitality.

#4 zerbinetta

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 05:08 PM

I'd always thought James and Madge were known to one another before the meeting in Act I. There had been at least one unpleasant encounter which leads James to his inhospitable behavior.

He has never seen the Sylph before but she has watched him since he was a child, watched him grow into the man she loves.

Perhaps Madge has also watched .. and waited.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 05:09 PM

Yes [ referring to Mel's post above; zerbinetta and I were posting at the same time], she makes a gesture of warming her hands when asked, "What are you doing here?" There was a custom iin The Good Old Days that anyone was entitled to warm him/herself and have a meal. One. James breaks the code of hospitality.

#6 innopac

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 10:04 PM

Could you also resolve an argument? In this performance with Englund are the roles for the 4 witches helping Madge performed by male or female dancers?

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 11:10 PM

I think Englund as Madge is attracted to James, and that's what we see when he dies -- ahw knows it but it is a thron in her flesh, but when she loses even that last shred of a chance, it hits her as regret -- but then she scorns her weakness, and she's beat him in THIS respect, so she triumphs, but there's no joy in it. That's how I read it.

But no two ways about it, Englund's is a GREAT performance.

#8 ami1436

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 02:04 AM

Englund's performance as Madge with the Royal Ballet last season and the season before were the subject of great debate in some circles. If you watched closely, she seemed to signal to the audience that she herself had been/was a sylph, lifting her own skirts to display the soft white skirt underneath. I have yet to watch her on the DVD to see if she had been doing this before? It's very quick - and very easy to miss. Kobborg, in an Insight Event at the ROH, said that in his vision, it is ambiguous if James dies or not, and if Madge is/was a Sylph or not. I have yet to fully suss out what I think is happening - but I do think Englund's Madge is distinct from the others I have seen here with the Royal.

#9 bart

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 04:47 AM

An interesting discussion. I was wondering to what extent -- in the Royal Danish or other major companies -- an individual dancer is free to interpret or reinterpret a major role like this? Do certain artists get a "pass" from the rules of choreographic tradition or directorial control? I'm not arguing against this, but I wonder how it is justified? And what do you think of it, especially when done by an artist less skilled and conscientious than Englund.

P.S. This occurred to me after reading in the Kavanagh Nureyev about his arbitrary decision to perform a series of entrechats six for the traditional brises voles in Giselle Act II. Apparently, the reason for doing this had to do do with N's own sense of what would make a bigger impression for him, rather than anything historically- or character-based.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 04:53 AM

Could you also resolve an argument? In this performance with Englund are the roles for the 4 witches helping Madge performed by male or female dancers?



Male dancers. A company tradition is for these roles to be taken by aspirant boys (16-18)

#11 Jane Simpson

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 06:56 AM

One of Kobborg's idea is that Madge realises that she's got what she has spent so long planning for and that now her life is empty - which would explain her look of regret. I'm sure that Englund has done the 'I was once a Sylph' interpretation before the Royal Ballet production - but she doesn't always do it. I think Kobborg is happy to leave a degree of ambiguity to give the audience the chance to read into it what most resonates with each individual - which is fine by me.

As to the degree others are allowed their own interpretations: I've just been reading a new book by Thomas Lund and Ole Norlyng in which Gudrun Bojesen talks about the experience of dancing the Sylph with Nikolai Hubbe, Mads Blangstrup and Lund: they are all quite different and as it's Hubbe's production and he coached the other two, evidently they're allowed to find their own way through. (And incidentally it's fascinating that Hubbe, who believes the Sylph is only in James's head, makes Bojesen herself believe that she has no existence and is being imagined by him.) Certainly the Royal Ballet's sylphs are all different from each other. The Madges were all coached by Englund and they all do the ending differently, so far as I remember.

#12 innopac

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 11:36 AM

Found this on the web last night -- an interview with Sorella Englund from Dancing Times Magazine. Nov 2, 2005.

Englund believes that it was Madge’s position on the fringes of society that helped her develop her talent as a fortune-teller. “She became very good at observing people. When you’re not the focus of attention, you see things very clearly and how other people act.

“And so on the wedding day, she sees James, who in her eyes, has everything. And he very rudely kicks her out, maybe because he knows that she knows the same landscape as he does. Maybe that was the last straw. Now she decides to take revenge and won’t give up until it’s finished.

“In the end, she gets her revenge. Her plan worked, because she is very intelligent. And now she is lonelier than she has ever been in her life. The emptiness is even bigger, because there’s nothing left, no plan, no passion. Her question is, ‘what now?’”


From Talking About Madge An Interview with Sorella Englund by William Anthony



#13 bart

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 12:12 PM

“In the end, she gets her revenge. Her plan worked, because she is very intelligent. And now she is lonelier than she has ever been in her life. The emptiness is even bigger, because there’s nothing left, no plan, no passion. Her question is, ‘what now?’


From Talking About Madge An Interview with Sorella Englund by William Anthony

This is the ballet from Madge's point of view. It's interesting, but rather reminds me of Tom Stoppard's Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in which the main characters in the unfortunate events at Elsinore turn out to be ... Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern!

A dancer's interpretation can often become deeper and more committed if he or she develops a back story for the characater. But is an interpretation like this accessible to the audience actually watching the ballet?

#14 innopac

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 12:27 PM

Your point, Bart about "is an interpretation like this accessible to the audience actually watching the ballet" struck a chord with me. I interpreted Madge's loss/emptiness as comprehension of the evil that she had committed...

So out of this arises the question -- whose interpretation is the most valid one or are they all equal?

On another point -- I hadn't realised that James did not die in Bournonville's original productions.

At this moment the fortuneteller enters to rejoice at James's despair and counters his reproaches with the icy laughter of revenge. She points to the background, where Gurn is leading Effy to the altar. The Sylphide's strength is decreasing little by little. James is at her feet. Her sisters surround her, and in their arms she breathes forth her spirit. Sylphs and sylphides veil the beloved body and carry it away through the air. Overcome with grief, the unfortunate James casts yet another look at his airy mistress and falls to At this moment the fortuneteller enters to rejoice at James's despair and counters his reproaches with the icy laughter of revenge. She points to the background, where Gurn is leading Effy to the altar. The Sylphide's strength is decreasing little by little. James is at her feet. Her sisters surround her, and in their arms she breathes forth her spirit. Sylphs and sylphides veil the beloved body and carry it away through the air. Overcome with grief, the unfortunate James casts yet another look at his airy mistress and falls to the ground in a swoon.

The Ballet Poems of August Bournonville: The Complete Scenarios, Appendix Two
by Patricia McAndrew et al. Dance Chronicle, Vol. 6, No. 1. (1983), pp. 52-78.



#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 01 November 2007 - 04:19 PM

This occurred to me after reading in the Kavanagh Nureyev about his arbitrary decision to perform a series of entrechats six for the traditional brises voles in Giselle Act II. Apparently, the reason for doing this had to do do with N's own sense of what would make a bigger impression for him, rather than anything historically- or character-based.


No, no; you see, he was under the telepathic control of the previously unknown cousin of Marius Petipa, Izzy, about whom, more anon, perhaps next August....


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