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Airs/La Sylphide - Spring 09 Season

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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_.

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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!

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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:

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... 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.

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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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Thank you Ilya, I was truly at a loss at the walking-without-wings point... I was not seated close and was off on the side, which may have interfered with my understanding of what was happening. I guess fluttering the hands would be like an attempt to fly. Also, the lighting probably looked very different from where I sat, certainly Airs was not too dim... but I know from times of watching the same producton (not this one) from several different seats in the house, that light bounces back at the audience very differently depending on the angle one sits from the stage, so won't disagree with those who perhaps sat in better seats.

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?

I have a poor memory, but, I remember thinking Gurn was doing a much better job as suitor of Effie, and wondered why James didn't even notice she had entered the room... it didn't seem like he was being drawn away from his preoccupying thoughts of the sylph, but that he was simply unaware, which was weird considering the commotion of her entrance.

Also, the mother seemed such a bit part, I didn't understand why she was given such a large distinction in the bows... perhaps the part is made more of in other productions?

One other thing I remember being different... the placement of the chair by the fire and the disappearing under the scarf... I remember the lighting singling out James & the fire more in the opening, and almost that the chair was more center.. not necesarily center stage, but not so far to stage right (perhaps this perception was influenced by my obscured view from hosue left?). The way Cornejo tautly stretched the shawl over the chair was very suspicious. I remember it being much more surprising that the sylph wasn't there when the shawl was snatched away... that we fully expected her to be revealed at that moment (and I don't think this was just because I was a child at the time). I notice Effie make something of there being the scarf on the chair under the shawl, but it didn't really make strong theatrical sense. I'm wondering if in the earlier production, one "saw" a body under the folds of the shawl, which when the shawl was snatched away was revealed to be the scarf James had presented Effie earlier?

Also, one moment amongst the sylphs struck me as awkward... where the two are dancing with the corps, but perhaps each principal on quarter mark, when it finishes, they come together again, but there's this kind of awkward moment when she sort of scoots back over to him so they both can be center... it was like the choreographer had two images mind and never quite figured out how to make the transition between the two... felt very disjunct and sheepish.

A question for anyone who remembers the 1970s ABT setting... were there huge spiderwebs stretched across the stage? There was a nice dark spiderweb hard set in this current production, but I remember something white and silk-ish... (or am I remembering some other production?). My childhood memories were that Madge's world was much more haunting ...

Thank you. Jared Matthews and Gemma Bond are certainly names worth remembering.

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I attended last night's performance with Veronika Part and Cory Stearns (the one that was supposed to be See Heo - oops I'm sorry the one that was supposed to be Natalia Osipova - BUT I've gotten over all of that!)

This is the first time that I have ever seen La Sylphide. The fact that it was paired with Airs gave me a hint that it was not going to be that long. I thought that it was beautiful. Veronika Part was so lovely throughout the ballet and I kept waiting for her to return. I also liked Cory Stearns very much - he showed a lot of leading man quality when he danced, so I'm sure that this was a big breakthrough for him. But never have I seen Part so beautiful. I have seen her as Nikiya, Odette/Odile and Aurora. A few weeks ago, I read that New York Times article about her and it confirmed something that I always suspected about her. She just needs to dance and not think too much. In the past, I could tell when she was thinking her way through a performance and when she was just letting the music take over. (For example, so many times she just let loose in her Nikiya, then she thought her way through the Kingdom of the Shades, especially the scarf dance and that is when the bobbles took over.) She confirmed that in the article. Last night, she just let go and what a beautiful vision she was!

Airs was good - not what I usually come to see, but the cast was wonderful, especially Misty Copeland.

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Veronika was very beautiful last night and really gave the appearance of being light through her movements. She seems to have "lost" some weight from the last time i saw her(Saturday night,the 13th) as Myrtha. She danced all the Bournonville-steps including the jumps very well.The real surprise was C Stearns who danced and mimed very well.

I was very surprised to see very many empty seats.I don't understand why La Sylphide is not more popular in the US. It has everything that a full-lenght ballet should have. Maybe,people find it too short, too much mime? or confuse it with Les Sylphides?

I enjoyed Airs very much. The entire cast was admirable including K Boone, M Copeland and esp A Scott

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I attended today's matinee with Hee Seo (debut in role)/Hallberg in the lead roles.

Effie: Gemma Bond

Gurn: Daniil Simkin

Madge: Victor Barbee

This Madge was, to me at least, not as good as the Raffa version. First, Barbee's posture was not stooped low, with a crumpled back like a hobbled old woman's might be. He seemed more malevolent, less mischevious, than Raffa's version. Barbee's "fortunetelling" scene involved more obvious/pronounced gestures than Raffa's, although both were articulate. I found Barbee's longer face and, what to me seemed like bigger circular skin-colored protruding moles from his large "mask" nose, less expressive than Rafee's version. Barbee is more physically imposing. Another difference is that he is more involved in physically drawing Gurn to Effie. Simkins seems more reluctant physically than Lopez was. Finally, Barbee wagged his finger a lot more, including at the end after James has collapsed and Act 2 comes to a closure. Despite being not as good as Raffa, Barbee was still good.

I liked Simkin's Gurn a lot. He seemed more intelligent than Lopez's version, and younger, consistent with Simkin's actual age. Dancing behind Hallberg, though, in the Scottish wedding dance made Simkin look shorter and Simkin's lines less elegant, relative to those of Hallberg.

Simkin several times looked at Effie and used the "crossing heart" motion to signal his liking her during Act 1. In contrast to Lopez, Simkin hesitates more, and seems more ambivalent about asking Madge to read his fortune. After Madge links his future with Effie's, Simkin seems more genuinely happy than Lopez. I think Simkin's acting is quite good in a ballet context. As usual, Simkin displayed good jumps and technZique.

Nina A's Slyphide from earlier this week was more "cute" and endearing. She seemed more playful. Seo's Slyphide was quieter (in the sense of more reserved) and more elegant in general demeanor, but arguably slightly more flirty and intent on enticing James.

Somehow, although I wouldn't necessarily know from not having watched ballet enough, I wasn't that impressed by Seo's performance. In particular, after her wings fall off because James wrapped the scarf around her, there is a minute or two where she is seated on the ground with her legs in front of her, in a hurt position. When Hee did this, she lowered her head so low into her dress that one could not see her face at all. That left a large missed opportunity. Nina's version had a part of her face and pain more visible.

A couple of things I noted relating to Hallberg:

-- In the Act 1 Scottish dance, Hallberg places each hand on the elbow of the other hand while elevating his hands and lower arm to elbow level. The way he rests each hand on the other hand's elbow is particularly graceful.

-- In today's matinee, Hallberg picks up one of the sylphide's broken wings in a wistful manner before running into a corner closest to the audience, as he realizes what he has done. I don't think he did that Thursday. Interestingly, Madge then also picks up one of the wings of the sylphide.

-- Hee Seo didn't give Hallberg a rose on stage. I appreciate that giving the danseur a rose is technically in the ballerina's sole discretion. But I would have thought, unless there is a special rule about ballerinas keeping their bouquet in their first time in a role, that it would have been nice for her to have given one to Hallberg.

There is an arts and craft fair adjacent to the Metropolitan Opera right now. A little truck with gelato and sorbetto offerings can be found among the jewelry, handbag and other craft stores. I had a pear sorbetto cup. Refreshing!

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Part was tonight EXQUISITE !!!!!!

She had many wonderful moments, but her death brought tear to my eyes.

The more I see her the more I realize that she is a real treasure in the ballet world.

I enjoyed Osipova's performance but Part was just something else.

She was far beyond great jumps and virtuosity (and yes, her jetes were beautiful as well, obviously not with Osipova's ballon, but still awasome),

so beautiful and delicate ! The style was right there the whole time, and she used that gorgeous upper body to the fullest.

I think Van Hammel has also made a tremendous job coaching her, it really showed throughout the performance.


Abt Management (In case somebody read this):

Pls, pls, pls, give her Giselle and Juliet ASAP !!!!!!

I just cant wait any longer.

This woman beauty is truly astonishing, stunning.

I was kind of shocked when I came out of the theater, it took me a while to land again into the real life :lol:

I loved Cory as well, he has such a great stage presence and although he struggled at times with some steps, he looked gorgeous.

In a couple of years he is going to be amazing.

Van Hammel was good but I liked Raffa's Madge a lot more.

Lopez made a fantastic Gurn

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Just a quick note. I also found Part quite wonderful and beautiful, despite my doubts in advance about whether she was sufficiently "sylphlike." That just didn't matter -- she was so rich and expressive and beautiful.

I've been a big big fan of Hee Seo. She danced beautifully at the matinee, looking fluid, lightweight, and holding her positions so solidly. But like another post-er, I found her unmoving.

Hallberg at the matinee was very moving in his acting. Totally believable. You had the picture of a young man profoundly disturbed by this "visitation" and what was happening to his life; he fought against it and tried to hold onto his life, but in the end gave in totally to his incredible yearning for the Sylph.

Stearns danced well, and has a promising future, but his characterization wasn't as rich or moving.

Gurn -- this role makes me realize what an odd piece Sylphide is. Simkin and Salstein are both natural comedians, but the slapstick seemed odd when paired with the more disturbing aspects of the ballet. Not their fault, it's just an odd emotional combination in the ballet.

But overall, this being my first encounter with Sylphide, I like it, and would love to see it again.

I also like Airs more, having seen it three times now. Sorry I missed the cast with Misty Copeland. I enjoyed Katherine Williams.

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