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Airs/La Sylphide - Spring 09 Season


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#76 Helene

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 10:11 PM

When I saw "La Sylphide" in Denmark a few years ago, it was before "Etudes".

#77 kfw

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 03:29 AM

When I saw "La Sylphide" in Denmark a few years ago, it was before "Etudes".

That was the order of performance in D.C. in 2004. And on the same visit, when they paired La Sylphide with Napoli Act III, La Sylphide opened. In both cases I would have preferred the reverse order.

#78 carbro

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 07:04 AM

I have never seen LaSylphide first on a bill.

For a few seasons when Baryshnikov was AD, ABT had a shortened version of Giselle, which they paired with a one-act ballet (I remember seeing it with Voluntaries). Giselle was always second.

And at City Ballet, the two-act Harlequinade always follows a shorter ballet.

Somehow, finishing the program with the shorter ballet doesn't feel right to me.

#79 Helene

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 10:00 AM

I saw last night's performance, and I was sadly disappointed with the production, especially having seen the invigorated performances of the Hubbe stagings at Royal Danish Ballet and Ballet Arizona. It looked to me like the company, with the exception of the leads, was switching from its stock "Giselle" costumes to its stock "La Sylphide" costumes, without much of a sense of what makes the ballets different. And as pretty as the girls' dresses were, Effie looked like she should be playing Amy in "Little Women", not a sensible farm girl in Scotland. In Bournonville, I want to see the legs from the knees down in the reel, one of my favorite scenes in all of ballet. I don't think I've ever seen Gurn played as a slapstick doofus before, however endearing or appropriate for a different ballet.

Like many others have noted here, Nancy Raffa was fierce as Madge, in a bloodcurdling portrayal. Ananiashvili danced an individual performance, more acting than mime-based, and her elevation isn't there, but I thought it was a deeply felt, fully realized characterization of a female creature who continuously invents ways to ensnare her male target. For the first time I saw that without the scarf, the physical gestures of submission would have been the Sylph's doom, if not immediately, since attaining the object long-term isn't the real point.

Hallberg, whom my friend aptly described as "a giant among Lilliputians", was the dancer from Bournonville's world, the world of ballon, clarity, and especially reversability. To watch him leap with those long limbs and continue in the opposite direction imperceptibly after he landed was a wonder. His feet are particularly beautiful, but beyond that, the strong way he placed them, but then shifted his weight as if he had never planted was magical.

#80 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 05:48 PM

I am very jealous. I did so very much want to see Hallberg dance James. Alas for cast changes. But it was nice to see Cornejo. You make a good case for different costumes.

#81 vipa

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 06:42 PM

I have never seen LaSylphide first on a bill.

For a few seasons when Baryshnikov was AD, ABT had a shortened version of Giselle, which they paired with a one-act ballet (I remember seeing it with Voluntaries). Giselle was always second.


I'm sure the ABT pairing of a short ballet with Giselle preceded Baryshnikov. I remember seeing (back in the day) a Michael Smuin ballet, Pulcinella Variations (sp?), before Giselle. I don't know the history of ABT's pairing Giselle with another ballet, but I'm sure it goes back a ways.

#82 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 06:56 PM

How different are the various Madges? Is there much room for improvisation? Our Gurn was very danseur noble when he wasn't trying to indicate that James was a flake. I didn't mind a little levity, but perhaps "tragically has lost his mind" is better than "flakey lunatic"? He isn't supposed to be Alain in Fille after all.

#83 Ilya

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 07:04 PM

Who was the handsome Gurn?
...
And Effie was gorgeous and perfectly cast... (Who was this? I'd love to see her in any acting role, Tudor, Sleeping Beauty? R&J?)...
...
Karl Barbee as Madge was thoroughly enjoyable too.
...
And the Now Suddenly I'm Blind! scene seemed to lack sense... Surely the ladies of the romantic era were very familiar with the symptoms of fainting... how ones vision starts to swirl with shadows... one didn't get the sense her vision was signaling loss of consciousness to the Sylph but that suddenly Osipova was clumsy with blindness... lose wings=instant blindness... it wasn't a lightheaded dizzy blindness it was a "someone turned the lights off now where am I" blindness.


It's Jared Matthews as Gurn, Gemma Bond as Effie, and Victor Barbee as Madge.

There was neither blindness nor loss of consciousness, as far as I understand. As a creature who lives in the air, the Sylph is not used to being grounded. I believe Ms. Osipova depicted her helplessness when trying to walk, with no wings---trying to feel her way with her hands and feet---and, IMHO, depicted it in a very beautiful and touching way.

#84 Ilya

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 07:17 PM

In the death scene of that same performance, I missed Sylph pleading, "But I thought you loved me!" She mimed something vaguely, pointing somewhere above (but far to the side of) her shoulder, then taking the hand to her heart, but it carried no meaning. I know what it's supposed to be, but I couldn't make sense out of it. She needs to define these moments in her own mind (or her coach's) and communicate them.


I may be wrong, but I think that particular gesture meant to explain to James how much she loved living in the air---i.e., in effect, that she cannot live without her wings. I do not think that "But I thought you loved me!" would have been appropriate or logical at that point, given James's overt horror at what was happening to her. James would have needed to behave differently in order for "But I thought you loved me!" to make any sense in that scene.
I thought the entire death scene was very beautifully, touchingly, and convincingly acted.

#85 Ambonnay

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 08:08 PM

How different are the various Madges? Is there much room for improvisation? Our Gurn was very danseur noble when he wasn't trying to indicate that James was a flake. I didn't mind a little levity, but perhaps "tragically has lost his mind" is better than "flakey lunatic"? He isn't supposed to be Alain in Fille after all.


I saw the Tuesday and Thursday performances, both with Nina A/David Hallberg and with Nancy Raffa as Madge. As previously noted by another poster, Raffa was very effective. I liked the way she hobbled around, using her knobbly walking stick quite effectively. Her interactions with Hallberg and Carlos Lopez (Gurn both nights) were good. In addition, her sense of triumph at the end, when Hallberg had collapsed, was well-portrayed. At least on Thursday, she sort of pulled Hallberg's hair a little bit (before he collapsed to the ground) towards the end of Act 2 (after he had seen the sylphide carried off). I'm a newbie when it comes to watching ballet, so I don't know whether that's customary, but it was effective.

Nina A gave Madge a rose at the end of the Thursday performance, after Nina gave one to Hallberg. I know that's relatively unusual, but how unusual is it?

Hallberg danced beautifully on both occasions, but I thought he was slightly better Thursday night. I am going to see Seo/Hallberg during the matinee tomorrow, and will report.

Sorry if I don't know a lot about ballet, but I'm trying to learn.

PS: The Grand Tier restaurant now has a $39/person three-course prix fixe, with two selections per course, prior to ABT performances. The same prix fixe is $49 with a glass of wine included (only one red and one white among the choices). The Patina Restaurant group website has indicative menus. I noticed that Grand Tier has d'Yquem by the glass at $39 -- now that's dessert. The current vintage being poured (small, but not inappropriately, given the price of d'Yquem) is 2002. The Arpeggio restaurant in Avery Fischer has a 50%-off-the-second-main-course offer in some situations.

I noticed a new drink special available this season -- the blood orange mimosa. It seems to be from a pre-mixed bottle from a manufacturer, and I am not sure the ingredient sparkling wine is champagne. But it is at least different from the typical offerings.

PPS: Does anybody know if Maxim B has recovered from his injury enough to dance on Monday? If not, I wonder who would replace him? I hope Hallberg, but Hallberg already has two Swan Lake performances (both with Wiles_.

#86 Helene

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 09:52 PM

If in tonight's performance of "La Sylphide" the ensembles neither created a sense of community and place nor sisterhood, the Sylph, Veronika Part, and the three human protagonists, Marian Butler's Effie, Cory Stearns' James, and Jared Matthews' Gurn, certainly created a drama that captured my attention and imagination from end to end.

In particular, Part's mime was crystal clear, and Stearns' was close, and his characterization had a sense of dramatic arc, with a combination of confusion and desire. While he was not Hallberg's equal in style or technique, especially in the Act I variation, he had some wonderful moments in the Act II solos, and the phrasing in the last one was varied and fit the music beautifully. It was a well-rounded attempt at an iconic role.

Butler's Effie was emotionally live, and I got the impression that in choosing to marry Gurn, it was less a practical decision than a realization that she had narrowly escaped a disaster. (Still, Mom isn't convinced, even at the end when Madge gestures for her to accept it, and after she is alone on stage, Madge gestures about the fools she has to put up with.) Jared Matthews' Gurn was genuinely kind to Madge in Act I, and while there are built in comic elements, like missing the chair where he expected to disclose the Sylph and falling to the floor, and needing to be pushed, twice, by Madge to ask Effie to marry him, he was not a silly figure, and he reminded me of Royal Danish Ballet's Mads Blangstrup in the straightforwardness and bit of urgency in his Act I variation.

This is the first time I've seen Veronika Part live; add me to the list of Part lovers. Her Sylph flitted with delight and anticipation at capturing the heart of this creature (for to her, he was the creature) with lightness yet resonance, grace, and that beautiful mime. She portrayed a happy Sylph, single-minded and single-hearted, oblivious to the pain she would cause. Her Act II solos built to a thrilling climax. I generally don't sympathize with this amoral creature, but watching her joyfully equate the scarf with James' love and wholeheartedly bowing to him to get it was like watching an unavoidable catastrophe.

Martine van Hamel's Madge was remarkably contained and quiet, in some ways almost stealth, like a spider waiting for its prey to entrap itself, and then rejoicing.

Despite the sometimes shadowy lighting, "Airs" which opened the program, was danced in sunshine and cool breezes by the cast of Boone, Copeland, Curry, Milewski, Hoven, Scott, and Stappas. The ensemble danced seamlessly. I was impressed particularly by how Misty Copeland looked so idiomatic in the all of the poses on the floor.

Ambonnay -- welcome to Ballet Talk, and thank you for posting your impressions!

#87 atm711

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 02:33 AM

How different are the various Madges? Is there much room for improvisation? Our Gurn was very danseur noble when he wasn't trying to indicate that James was a flake. I didn't mind a little levity, but perhaps "tragically has lost his mind" is better than "flakey lunatic"? He isn't supposed to be Alain in Fille after all.


Yes, Amy Reusch, you have made a good point here. I saw Jared Matthews as Gurn Wed Eve and he was very 'danseur noble' most of the time, but did go over-the-top with the lunatic bit--it was very Alain. It also robbed the ballet of its pathos and made it a little hard to take it seriously after that.

and Helene--welcome to the club :clapping:

#88 Ambonnay

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 03:34 AM

... Our Gurn was very danseur noble when he wasn't trying to indicate that James was a flake...


... I saw Jared Matthews as Gurn Wed Eve and he was very 'danseur noble' most of the time, but did go over-the-top with the lunatic bit--it was very Alain. It also robbed the ballet of its pathos and made it a little hard to take it seriously after that....


Thanks for the welcome :clapping:

I just looked up what it says in "101 Stories of the Great Ballets" (G Ballanchine and F Mason) about the Gurn role, and here are the first few descriptions:

-- "Gurn, another young peasant, rests in a corner against the fireplace. In his deep sleep, Gurn is not disturbed by the realization of his friend's dream; he himself dreams of Effie, Jame's bride-to-be, and the love he will lose this day." In the ABT production, there is a man resting his head on a table in the background where James is in the foreground in the chair, but I think Gurn enters through the door later and the "other" man sleeping might not have been Gurn. I'm going to check this later. Also, the ABT synopsis says that Gurn is James' counsin instead of friend.

-- After the Sylphide disappears in the fireplace, James "shakes his friend awake rudely. Did he see the beautiful vision? How long have we slept? Gurn is a little embarassed at his own dream and is about to tell James yes, he saw the beautiful girl, but he sees that his friend is not talking about Effie, the bride, but about someone quite different. He wonders at his friend." I'm not sure this happened in the ABT production. The Ballanchine description seems to have James more voluntarily disclosing to Gurn the sylphide than the ABT production portrays, but I'm not sure about this.

-- When Effie arrives, "Gurn greets the bride first.... Gurn can hardly control himself, he is so moved by her loveliness, meekly he presents her with a rare bird he killed yesterday while hunting. Effie accepts the gift...." Did this happen in the ABT production?

It seems like there is flexibility as to what to include in a production.

C Lopez's depiction of Gurn was not at all "danseur noble", although it that might have been particularly difficult to pursue that type of characterization beside Hallberg.

C Lopez was decent in the Gurn role. He came across as a person who thought about life more simply and practically than James, but that is in part due to Hallberg's portrayl of James and the refined aura to Hallberg's dancing (e.g., the elegant and princely, instead of peasantly, way that Hallberg, not unexpectedly, danced the group dance during the part of the wedding before he leaves in pursuit of the slyphide). A minor note (I know I shouldn't think about such things) that Carlos' hair, with the little rounded peak above his forehead, was a bit distracting and made his Gurn look slightly less serious than I would have liked. That Carlos' hair was covered by the pirate scarf tied around his head was why Carlos' costuming for Birbanto in Le Corsaire served him better (May 26: Hallberg as Conrad, Corella as Ali, P Herrera as Medora, Y Kajiya as Gulnare). His hair was hidden.

Anyhow, C Lopez on both Tuesday and Thursday mimicked the la Sylphide in two intentionally funny instances during Act 1. The first was when Gurn recounts to Effie and James' mother how there had been a sylphide, and the second is after James disappears during the wedding scene. In both instances, C Lopez uses his whole body to portray this. He flails his arms in sequence forward, almost like the arm movement in the freestyle position in swimming, but each arm is more arched in shape in a round way as he does this. He takes delibrately clown-like steps forward. These movements are exaggerated, and intended to be funny. I thought Carlos did them well.

The Ballanchine stories summary does not say that Gurn tries to tell Effie and James' mother about the sylphide before Madge enters the picture.

#89 kfw

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 07:11 AM

Helene, I'm so glad you could finally see Part! She's a big woman and I had a hard time imagining her as a woodland sprite, but your description draws a beautiful picture. Thanks.

#90 Helene

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 07:35 AM

It was such a pleasure to see her. Small light soubrettes have a built-in airy and in some cases air-headed quality, but to see a tall, full dancer show delight from her fingertips to her toes was a visceral thrill.

Mary Cargill, in her review for danceviewtimes, writes about a number of issues I had with the production:

And the current version which had Gurn, the man who loves Effie, and James dance joyfully at the betrothal, which while it gives them something to do, does interfere with the drama. Gurn is furious because he thinks James is hiding something (which he is), and because he wants Effie for himself, and James is (or should be) lost in his own world thinking about the Sylph--neither would be jumping for joy. (Bournonville, a great man of the theater, gave the two solos to corps members.) Gurn, too, has turned into something of a comic; I remember seeing a Danish production where the dancer made it clear that when Madge told him to lie about finding James' coat, this fundamentally decent man came to a moral crisis and completely failed--it was one of the most wrenching 3 seconds of drama I have seen. Theatrically, I think it is a mistake to have the girls in the betrothal party wear pastels, since there isn't enough contrast between them and the second act sylphs. They should be hearty farm girls, not peasants, but not girls who traveled to and from Bath and suffered from the vapors, so that the vision in white of the second act comes as an unexpected thrill.


To be fair, I don't think I've ever seen a production in which James and Gurn don't hog the two Act I solos.

The bottom line for me was that in this production, the Company as a whole, despite some wonderful efforts by the cast I saw last night, did not make great theater. "Le Corsaire" by the Bolshoi in DC, despite the amount of action and ridiculous plot, was much more coherent theatrically, because everyone knew his or her role in creating that world.


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