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Bournonville Sylphide DVD

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I watched this just last evening, having bought a copy as result of reading the discussion here, and while I was annoyed by so many "partials" - shots showing only a partial view of someone - evidently the doirector, Thomas Grimm, is another television person who doesn't realize dance expression is about moving in space and that expression is consequently reduced, not enhanced, when the camera closes in so that we don't even see a dancer's whole body - I had a fine time with it because we could so often see the literally wonderful performance - full of wonders, one after another after another, as has been discussed here at length - thank you all! The hour flew along as though it were little more than half that.

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I finally got this on Wednesday and watched it twice in a row on that evening. It's fantastic!

The DVD: Occasionally the number of camera cuts was distracting, but generally the mime came across really well. The picture was a tiny, tiny split second behind the sound on my DVD, especially noticeably in the Reel. Generally very good.

General stuff about the ballet: it's so compact and the storytelling is very clear. I hate to admit this, but sometimes partway through a Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty I think something like, "Phew: only on Act II and about an hour to go....*sigh*" La Sylphide is small but perfectly formed, with no padding or extraneous 'business'.

I've not really worked out the story fully. Why does the Sylph want James? Is James a strong or a weak character? What is Madge's motivation? How does the Gurn/Effy affair wind up so neatly and QUICKLY?

But never mind all that!

I found Lis Jeppesen to be a surprisingly 'modern' ballerina: strong balances en pointe, some high arabesques penchees. BUT it was all done with wonderful lightness, grace and variety: here, the arabesque was truly used as an expressive device rather than just another pretty pose. Her Sylph was much more innocent and simply played than I'd expected from various references that I'd read, and was completely involving and sympathetic, whatever her motives (her eyes! So beautiful). Her death scene was amazingly moving and delicate. (Btw, I am curious to know what the Sylph's mime in this scene means?)

Nikolaj Hubbe was a very passionate James, and was very believable. His anguish at the Sylph's death was very affecting. I had the impression very occasionally that he was throwing himself around in his jumps (he certainly covers a lot of space), but overall his dancing was very exciting.

Sorella Englund's Madge was indeed complex, with moments of wit contrasting with searing anger and bitterness. She was a glamorous witch, and this contributed to her awesome presence and power.

Ann-Kristin Hauge was lovely as Effy, though I thought she could have been a bit more wildly desperate at her abandonment: in this period, this kind of thing would have ruined a girl's life, so perhaps it could have been more of a shrieking-madly-crisis than a simple weeping-crisis. Morten Munksdorf was likeable as Gurn, and I really wanted a happy ending for him and Effy.

It's a pretty production and is one of the best ballets that I have seen. How lucky we are to have it on DVD!

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(Btw, I am curious to know what the Sylph's mime in this scene means?)

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There words that go with the Sylph’s death scene have changed quite a bit over the years according to a recent publication – more recently separated into three lines, rather than two that seems to have been an earlier practice. However, what they express has remained basically unchanged over the years. Currently, the Sylph's lines are suggested to be: “You should not have done that” – “I could not help it” – “I have loved you more than anything on earth”.

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...

(Btw, I am curious to know what the Sylph's mime in this scene means?)

...

There words that go with the Sylph’s death scene have changed quite a bit over the years according to a recent publication – more recently separated into three lines, rather than two that seems to have been an earlier practice. However, what they express has remained basically unchanged over the years. Currently, the Sylph's lines are suggested to be: “You should not have done that” – “I could not help it” – “I have loved you more than anything on earth”.

Thankyou very much. The music in this scene (esp. the cello) is so beautiful, and the mime makes perfect sense now.

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I just watched this and then read the thread but, while not proud when I (must) have bad taste, I hereby have it. I'm a big Hubbe fan, but everything at the NYCB I've seen I've preferred to this. I probably don't have a taste for pure Bournonville like this, but the lighting is ridiculous--much of it so in darkness that even the faces were often dark.

Thenk looked up in wiki some of the facts. So the LaCotte version for Paris has the original score by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoffer and the second version is this one by Bournonville with music by Lovenskiold. I recall liking the Parisian one infinitely more and the Schneitzhoffer music much preferable to this, in which I was not struck by anything. While watching, I primarily noticed that everything is more demure and modest than I had remembered it in the Ghislaine Thesmar/Michal Denard video, but I hadn't known they were totally different other than noticing what I was pretty sure was a different name for the composer. Well, this is I think something you automatically have a taste for or not. I remember Denard's dancing being a lot more energetic and exciting than that given to Hubbe, but having no knowledge of what would be needed for Bournonville purism, that's not a criticism of any of the dancing I saw, all of which seemed to be of fine quality, yet again for devotees of this sort of thing.

Is this a thing of the small gesture at all times? Is all Bournonville like this? If so, I can respect it, and I think understand what its appeal might be, but I am pretty sure I don't have a taste for it: I was not bored by Thesmar and Denard, thought it seemed quite delicate as well (I read that Lacotte had worked from old photos and drawings to try to recreate Taglioni's choreography, and many thought it non authentic, but since I wouldn't know about that, I had liked it) and never thought I'd be bored by Hubbe, but was. [Edited to add: I was not bored by Hubbe himself, but could not enter into the style, as per Alexandra's post below and mine following.]

Wiki also mentioned the Petipa variation used in Paquita from Petipa's 1892 'La Sylphide.' That sounds interesting, has anybody ever seen that full-length version? I noticed the music was Riccardo Drigo, whom I know from 'Le Corsaire' only. I love 'Corsaire', no matter how broad, so might be interested in that. I'll be seeing a DVD of Paquita soon, so imagine that's the only piece of that version still extant. Just checked again--it seems Taglioni's choreography was used, so had not yet been lost. Some details are missing, will appreciate anyone filling in, in any case was a mounting by Petipa.

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The Bournonville La Sylphide is set for release in the U.S. on March 28 as well. I admit I really don't know this ballet from Adam -- all I've seen is the Fracci/Bruhn Bell Telephone hour snippet. So ... to those who know this ballet, which version is "better"? The POB version, reconstructed by Lacotte, or the Bournonville? Or both? Choices, choices ...
There's no comparison between the Lacotte reconstruction and this version. Get this.

They are two different ballets, kind of almost like comparing Tudor's Romeo and Juliet (Delius) with MacMillan's (Prokofiev). Same story, but different music, different treatment. Lacotte/Taglioni is a reconstruction of the first Paris Sylphide, which Bournonville saw and wanted to imitate in Denmark but could not afford to use that music, hence had to commission a fresh score for his own take on the story. I remember that I enjoyed the Lacotte one and its music very much when I happened to catch it on its premiere a few years ago.

I have this Danish DVD and I think that the sound must have been produced later, as in my copy the music is around half a beat ahead of the dancing throughout. It is very disconcerting. They are always taking off or landing just after the beat. Scherzo, I have just realised you noticed this too, so it is not my rogue copy.

By the way, I have just seen an interview online in the British ballet website with Peter Schauffus the Danish director where he said that ballets change so quickly now because there are many more casts performing them and making their own adaptations. He said that in the 19th century ballets had only one or two casts who would 'own' the role and dance it a long time, develop it on their personality, and then pass it on to the next longtime occupant. So you did not get these continual rewriting of productions and variations for many new casts. Interesting. More like today's theatre, actually.

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Yes, they are two entirely different ballets. I like delibes' comparison of various Romeo and Juliets.

Re the musicality: the Danes dance through the beat, not on it. They're also very subtle and it takes some watching to "get it." (Not that one has to, of course.) When I was first trying to understand Bournonville, I asked a dancer why most Americans preferred Dancer X or Mime Y while most Danes (at least, the Danish artists I admired) preferred M and P, and was gently told, "You know, Danish art is very subtle, and it takes a long time to get used to it." It took me two years of watching them (on several short visits) before my eye adjusted. (And of course, it's also a matter of taste. Someone might watch them for 50 years and still think they were dull.) A reminder that this was Hubbe's debut and he was 20.

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Re the musicality: the Danes dance through the beat, not on it. They're also very subtle and it takes some watching to "get it."

Now that is very helpful, and will make me work at it some more--I hope I am able to see this 'dancing through the beat', which is very interesting if I can then find the opposite to compare and be able to see it. I thought it might possibly be something like this, but wasn't sure if it was possible for something more or less Western mainstream to be so singular that it reminds me a little of getting used to some Eastern musical and dance forms (some of them I have loved immediately, others I could never.) I think also if the lighting were not so badly done (this looks like ordinary videotape, and not only the faces, but even the feet, especially of James, were dimmed or obliterated, and very often), I might have already been able to see more. It reminded me of a Parma 'Rigolette' with Alfredo Kraus which was far worse still--there were total black scenes with singing; but that I could not even get through.

I should add that I had phrased that wrongly about Hubbe. I didn't find him dull at all, it was just the style I couldn't get used to yet. I thought he was actually delightful, very fresh and spirited.

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Re the musicality: the Danes dance through the beat, not on it. They're also very subtle and it takes some watching to "get it."

Now that is very helpful, and will make me work at it some more--I hope I am able to see this 'dancing through the beat', which is very interesting if I can then find the opposite to compare and be able to see it. I thought it might possibly be something like this, but wasn't sure if it was possible for something more or less Western mainstream to be so singular that it reminds me a little of getting used to some Eastern musical and dance forms (some of them I have loved immediately, others I could never.)

I remember having the same reaction to Ulanova's "Giselle." She looked off the music. I was sure the tape was defective. :rofl: And then I started watching her, and finding the music that way, and lo! she was very musical.

Bournonville (and Ashton and Tudor) are melodic, and very legato. Watch in the pas de deux (Act II). When James does his 1-3/4 air turns (NOT because Bournonville couldn't do a real double; they were de rigeur from the late 18th century) and ends with his arm raised, saluting HER. Her first step is his last.

I think also if the lighting were not so badly done (this looks like ordinary videotape, and not only the faces, but even the feet, especially of James, were dimmed or obliterated, and very often), I might have already been able to see more. It reminded me of a Parma 'Rigolette' with Alfredo Kraus which was far worse still--there were total black scenes with singing; but that I could not even get through.

I should add that I had phrased that wrongly about Hubbe. I didn't find him dull at all, it was just the style I couldn't get used to yet. I thought he was actually delightful, very fresh and spirited.

The lighting is for atmosphere. Classicism is the sun, Romanticism is the moon. And here's the tough one: in Bournonville's day, no one watched the feet. They watched the face, and then the eye might drift down the torso. That's why, in some Bournonville variations, the dancer looks down at his/her feet: so that we will follow his/her eyes, and see this really splendid step.

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Thanks for most wonderful lesson, Alexandra! I will now watch tonight or tomorrow and look for these specific things. I really should have done some research beforehand. I think, though, I will already be more ready to accept the delicacy and intimacy of the steps, so will be looking more for what I can see with the way the 'dancing goes through the music', because that is such an exciting concept, and which will probably also be a sensation one gets, that I am fairly sure that is the key to appreciating what I had not been able to the first time.

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I just found that there is a VHS of 'Napoli' from 1986 that I can get at NYPL. Anybody have some ideas about this production? this is also Royal Danish Ballet and I think if I see that I may get a better idea of how some of these different aspects of Bournonville style, as described by Alexandra, exist from having a second one to look at and compare. The other Bournonville ballets I am not familiar with by name. If there is anything in particular to look for here, please let me know if you have time.

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I am not sure that I have such wholesome confidence that the sound team on the recording were so fastidious. If the recording is not recorded live, and the "live" sounds on stage would I guess give this away, then how certain is it that the dance you see is being danced to what you hear? in this case there are places where the dancers clap or stamp their feet, visually clear, but they are all just after the beat (and in some places kinda raggedy so it's not like they are an incredibly disciplined team all dancing just 'off' or 'through' together.) It would make a very strange impact live, I would guess,to hear those heels go down off the beat or the claps off the beat. Could be wrong, but inclined to stick to my theory that the recording engineers didn't 100 per cent engage, maybe just 99 per cent. Remember Singin' in the Rain ... "yes-yes-yes! / no-no-no! "

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I am not sure that I have such wholesome confidence that the sound team on the recording were so fastidious. If the recording is not recorded live, and the "live" sounds on stage would I guess give this away, then how certain is it that the dance you see is being danced to what you hear? in this case there are places where the dancers clap or stamp their feet, visually clear, but they are all just after the beat (and in some places kinda raggedy so it's not like they are an incredibly disciplined team all dancing just 'off' or 'through' together.) It would make a very strange impact live, I would guess,to hear those heels go down off the beat or the claps off the beat. Could be wrong, but inclined to stick to my theory that the recording engineers didn't 100 per cent engage, maybe just 99 per cent. Remember Singin' in the Rain ... "yes-yes-yes! / no-no-no! "

Having just watched this again with this, among many other things in mind, I wasn't able to perceive a 'just after the beat'. I thought with the claps and at the end of more boisterous and robust type music, as in the very Scottish dance toward the end of Act I there was always a sharp period with the physical and the musical. Can't be sure about this if yu stilll doubt it, but I thought the music and dance exactly interwoven.

Alexandra, the problem is much worse than I thought, viz., my jaded excess-desiring sensibilities not being able to turn down the circuits without outside aid. Of course, much of what fits into and does the knockout thing I've gotten addicted to is great--the Kirov, La Scala opera productions, some Balanchine--but I will then lose the ability to even see what something as delicate as this piece is. Really sobering, because it did not even take any time to enter immediately into this very rarefied world once I had some pointers as to how to find it (or re-find it in some ways.) There are many things that come to mind so I'll just start anywhere.

The matter of 'dancing through the music' was not so much an obvious thing here as it was something that would seem to happen or be a part of both the particular delicacy of quality of both the dance and the music (which I also could really hear the second time, as if deaf the first time). I had actually thought of a 'dancing through the music' and not on the beat when I first started going to NYCB. although only with the soloists (never the corps, which even if if wasn't always precise was always pretty high-energy and sharp) and not with all of them either--I associated it most with Suzanne Farrell's dancing, and although I became a devotee of her work, she left me cold when I first saw her as a student, with still academic and pedantic attitudes of the sort you have to have to some degree to learn a discipline like the piano. Later, I began to see her own individual musicality as like another mujsical instrument in a couterpoint with the orchestra, it would stretch through and make new lines of meter and/or rhythm both opposing and joining the other lines of music. This was very flexible and I came to be able to see it. A few other very long-lined dancers I've also thought I have seen this in.

Now here--one gets this impression too, but it wasn't so much that they were going against the beat as that there were no hard beats to begin with, there is always this gentleness even with the rigour, and this therefore makes an environment for the Sylph. Musically, the orchestra was mostly first-rate in this production, with some minor fatigue in the first act in one of the less important interludes but which needed more energy. Until those Scottish dances (don't know what they would be termed), which are played beautifully, I began to wonder if this kind of gentle--and simple, in the best sense of the word--sound-world had to choose between absolute precision or not in order to favour keeping this mostly quiet mood (quiet in a sense even when the emotions go toward the fierce, at least by comparison to other music and dance with which I'm more familiar), but for some reason from there on and throughout Act II I could barely detect a flaw, and there was noteworthy trumpet solo work, as well as those cellos someone mentioned. The music is 'hard to get used to' as well, because it is a different kind of gentleness than, say English pastoral music of various composers, whether Delius or Vaughan Williams, and the sound of much Scandinavian music has a slight foreignness to those of us formed primarily by the bigness of German music and the more urbane sounds of much French music for several centuries.

Another thing about the ballet as a whole that made it possible to understand then the individual dancers and the details of the choreography was simply seeing that it was a very short ballet and only two acts. This form may have been more common way back in the 19th century, but my knowledge of ballets is the full-length, three-act (or at least much longer) romantic ballet or the one-act ballet, or anyway I can't think of another that is structurally like this one--so that all this quiet pastoral and ethereal quality (also not at all like the much more extroverted sounds of Beethoven's Pastorale, which is much more showy by comparison) is reflected in all parts, whether looking microscopically or at the whole piece.

Problems I had with it also included half-conscious memories of Peter Martins's 'Far from Denmark', when he would talk about getting used to the high energy of American ballet after having always worked in this very precise Danish style. But that was much less than that I could accept sylphs quite well (and 'Les Sylphides' is one of the most immediately gratifying ballets one can ever see, but much of it much more exuberant in some of Chopin's Waltzes, whereas here there are changes, but they are not in such strong contrast, are more subtle and stay within a certain realm of related sounds and steps), but could not for the life of me get this business of a Scotsman in a fairy-tale ballet. Anything in Sleeping Beauty, Bluebirds, Jewels, Lilac Fairy and Friends, all of that was what I thought was the 'Authentic Fairy Tale World.' Scottishness seemed somehow so earthy, especially a Scotsmen having a liaison with a Pure Sylph. Also, with all the talk of tights, I personally never think about it and always expect it: I couldn't get used to the kilts. And this time I saw that the boys and girls all had long green or purple stockings on as well, so they are not 'almost-naked' as in most ballet. This must surely add a certain modesty to the ballet, although the sylphs' dresses are beautiful. So, finally, I can see that what happened is that most people also don't usually think of Scottishness as something to use in ballets, since I can't think of anything else but 'Scotch Symphony' and I've never cared so much for it (I mean I'm about to watch 'Napoli' too, but Italian is again something I would not resist somehow...I don't know...I guess Scottishness somehow doesn't ssem like 'ballet lexicon', never heard of a Scottish Fairy Tale (have even known of Dutch Fairy Tales, although I'm told they're actually American), but both Sylph and Scots are then brought within this Danish environment which of itself doesn't call attention to itself; and if you try to find it you can't, because the Danish sensibility here is something that requires less that you strive for it than that you let the dynamics go down to piano and pianissimo, and some mezzo piano, mezzo forte, an occasional bit of brio and forte, but never fortissismo; and of a sort you wouldn't find in the same way in the more theatrical brightness of Petipa/Tchaikovsky--and then you can see it and hear it, but not from putting the usual kind of effort into it, but rather just exposing yourself to it.. Yes, that's part of it: It's not theatrical in the sense we usually think of it. Once past that hurdle, the fact that Danes taught in the French style portrayed Scottishness becomes exotic even while so gentle (of course there may be others, but I don't know them).

I noticed Ippeson a lot more the second time and you can see all those minutiae of movements like diaphanous moth-wings in the arms and feet (her feet are shown quite a bit; I did note that in one of the variations where Nikolaj is hopping about with the charming entrechats(I think that's what they are, I am now trying to get these down with the ABT glossary) you don't see the feet lit up. There was even some of the same sensation in the Lacotte choreography for James as I recall, although it was less slender with Denard and more coltish with Hubbe. She's exquisite and musical, as you say, profoundly so. So, ultimately, I thought it was a kind of very inward and introspective (and all related words) in which the music and dance blended into each other perhaps that is the same thing as 'dancing through the music'. What I associate with Farrell might be a little more 'dancing sometimes with and sometimes against the music', not qujite the same thing.

In any case, I fell in love at last with 'La Sylphide', because of all sorts of things, including those perfect little wings on the Sylph's back, and how heartbreaking it is when they fall off. Also love the little moment at the beginning of the 2nd Act where she feeds him the berries. But yes--la Crepuscule! so that the lighting all made sense as part of completing such an artwork.

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