sasark

La Sylphide - advice for a first-time viewer?

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Hi there. Next week, I am going to a performance of "La Sylphide." I have never seen it before. If you're a fan of this ballet, can you tell me, what do you look for when you go to see it? What are your favorite sequences? If you have a favorite production that lives in your memory, can you describe what made it special?

And going in the other direction... what types of problems do you sometimes see with "La Sylphide"?

If anyone has a favorite YouTube recording, I'd appreciate any links or search terms you have to share.

thanks!
Sasha

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You don't say which company you are seeing. Paris Opera Ballet reconstructed the original 1832 choreography (or, at least, what they knew of it). Most other companies perform the 1836 Bournonville version from the Royal Danish Ballet. Regardless, this is generally regarded as the first of the great romantic ballets and (at least, according to legend) the first to use pointe shoes, although they were far-removed from today's shoes.

The POB version is on DVD:

http://www.amazon.com/Sylphide-Schneitzhoeffer/dp/B004F29WJO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1399548260&sr=1-2-fkmr0&keywords=la+sylphide+pob

Several DVDs of the Bournonville exist. For authenticity, try the Royal Danish, the source:

http://www.amazon.com/Sylphide-Jeppesen-Sorella-Englund-Danish/dp/B000EGDBKG/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1399548523&sr=1-1&keywords=la+sylphide+Royal+Danish

Lots of clips on YouTube as well.

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Thanks California. Sorry for the omission -- I'll be seeing the Hungarian National Ballet. I guess they are doing the standard version; they credit the choreography to Maina Gielgud after August Bournonville.

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One bit of history that I find fascinating: Bournonville reportedly hated pointe shoes and choreographed without them. Yet, in the 20th century, even the Royal Danish Ballet uses pointe shoes. The main explanation I've seen: audiences expect them. That's a significant change from the original choreography and makes you wonder what else has been altered -- frequency of turns? height of jumps? extensions?

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One bit of history that I find fascinating: Bournonville reportedly hated pointe shoes and choreographed without them. Yet, in the 20th century, even the Royal Danish Ballet uses pointe shoes. The main explanation I've seen: audiences expect them. That's a significant change from the original choreography and makes you wonder what else has been altered -- frequency of turns? height of jumps? extensions?

Interesting. I was under the impression that it was Bournonville himself who put the Sylph and her sisters -- i.e., the magical creatures -- on pointe, leaving the rest of the women -- i.e., the human ones -- to dance in character shoes. Using pointe work to distinguish between the magical and the mundane has always been my favorite thing about "La Sylphide" -- so much so, in fact, that I've always longed for a version of "Giselle" (and maybe even "Swan Lake") that does the same thing!

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In Sylphide, pointe work was originally just for the supernatural characters -- Effie and the other women in the "real" world danced in soft shoes. Some newer stagings put everyone in pointe shoes (in part because contemporary dancers sometimes have a great deal of pain working on half-pointe) but stylistically, that's not a very authentic choice.

For a first time viewer, I'd suggest listening to the score a couple of times (I often have a YouTube video running in the background just so I can listen to the score on headphones).

Watch for the distinctions between the real and the supernatural worlds -- James is the pivotal character where those two worlds overlap, which sets up the tragedy.

If you're familiar with Giselle, it's fun to watch Sylphide as a precursor ballet -- this is the big step that leads to the newer work.

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Most of the YouTube clips of the Lacotte version are clearly marked: this is the version you *won't* be seeing.

Although film doesn't do it justice, the reel is one of my favorite group scenes in all of ballet:

Traditionally it uses the best students and creates a community, and it also advances the plot when James is distracted by the Sylph, and Effie, his fiance who can't see the Sylph, doesn't know why.

If done in the proper style, you'll see a distinct tilt of the upper body from the waist among the sylphs.

The biggest problems I've seen with Sylphide are the decimation of the mime, but that's true of many classics, and dancing the ballet in a classical or neoclassical style. The Romantic style has its virtues, but it's often dismissed as old-fashioned and stuffy, and is gussied up for modern audiences.

Here's a clip of Carla Fracci, one of the great Giselles, as the Sylph, with RDB-trained Peter Schaufuss:

This is a montage of rehearsal scenes cut with performance footage that summarizes most of Act II (with Gudrun Bojesen as the Sylph, Thomas Lund as James, and Lis Jeppesen as the witch Madge):

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Thanks everyone, for all of the comments! I especially enjoyed those three video snippets -- I can't wait to see the group scene on stage. smile.png

Sasha

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