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La Sylphide


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Atlanta Ballet is performing Kobborg's staging of Bournonville's La Sylphide this weekend and next.  Though I give my impressions at length, I am very eager to hear from others who saw this. I say Kobborg's staging but it's not identical to, say, the version he staged for the Bolshoi that has been twice broadcast. Kobborg's program notes mention that he makes slight adjustments every time he stages the ballet on a different company to suit each particular company's dancers. But the change I noticed seemed rather more significant than that--and whatever led to it, I was pleased.   The Bolshoi-Kobborg version (which I only know through video) concludes with its gorgeous but "used up" looking Madge revealing her sylph like underskirt in a gesture of quasi-sexual vulnerability as if to suggest a whole Madge back story to explain her actions (which have always seemed to me plenty explained by James's unkindness in Act I as well as larger cultural/social norms informing the ballet's libretto).

At this afternoon's performance we were spared this Madge-the-fallen-Sylph image which seems to me to make hash of the story. (After seeing the Bolshoi broadcast, I was left scratching my head: so wait...sylphs CAN have sex? In which case...isn't the sylph heroine of Bournonville's ballet a bit of an unpleasant c**k tease--as opposed, say, to a supernatural creature a human man can never possess? And who exactly does Madge hate? If she wanted revenge against other sylphs, then why does the ballet end with her gloating over James, but If it's revenge against James, then are we supposed to think they had an affair? (Which would explain  why he is such a jerk to her in Act I but not why he is so surprised and full of questions when he first sees the Sylph at the ballet's opening.) Kobborg , who obviously has far, far greater knowledge of the ballet than I, may well have good answers to all of these questions, and others may say I'm overthinking anyway, but for me the point is -- why raise these questions at all with an image that pretty much invites overthinking and does so JUST as the curtain is coming down on the ballet. I gather Hubbe's production also implies back story for Madge and James--so maybe this  speaks to Danish stagers -- or former Jameses -- in a way it just doesn't speak to me.)

The Atlanta Ballet production has designs by Desmond Heeley (the Bolshoi's are by Peter Farmer)--which I liked very much, especially Act I's splendid, but still rough hewn Scottish Castle Hall. Act II was more of a conventional tangled forest backdrop, very pale in its color palette--presumably to suggest we were seeing the trees through the mist even when the dry ice machine wasn't filling the stage with waves of stage fog.  

Without the Madge business to distract me, I was very satisfied with this production and with this performance. I best remember Bruhn's production for ABT and Kobborg includes some dancing I'm not used to seeing. Kobburg's notes mention portions of the score he uncovered along with some of Bournonville's notes on what he staged (or wished to stage?) to that music. Certainly the additions seemed to me tactful enough. That said, I'm no Bournonville expert and would like to hear what those who are, or those who know at least the older Royal Danish Ballet versions, think of them--in particular, what they think of the little inserted pas de deux where James and the Sylph seem to "feel" each other's touch without actually touching. Anyway, for me this was a very satisfying account of the ballet and the company made a very good showing in it. I especially enjoyed Kobborg's inclusion of children in the reel and, of course, live music.

At the Matinee I attended, Sergio Masero-Olarte and Airi Igarashi danced the leads. I can list what seem to me, as an amateur, to have been flaws in his performance -- not the neatest fifth positions in the world, especially in Act I when he had to alternate tours an l'air in different directions, not the most beautiful feet to "finish" off the choreography's marvelous footwork, a sunny stage persona that perhaps falls a little short when he has to shift into showing James's guilt and anguish, and here and there not enough natural ease in the upper body. But I think that list is misleading, because I found this in many ways quite an enjoyable and effective performance. For one things his jumps kind of exploded into the air and got very good height (I know it's Bournonville, but they didn't look effortful--just had a kind of firecracker quality on lift off); and even if his feet aren't, say, Malakhov gorgeous, his footwork did have speed; for another he really dances his variations, so they aren't just an assemblage of steps but flow together. Add to that: his mime was clear and natural; his chemistry with Aigarashi excellent; and he has natural stage charisma. You want to look at him.  Igarashi was also very fine--her upper body in particular--her head, shoulders, eyes along with arms, hands, and fingers all seemed exactly right and quite wonderful. Here, too, it might be interesting to hear from Bournonville experts what they thought of her and more particularly of her dancing on the technical side. I found it excellent, but lacking a bit in the melting, feathery, airiness -- the illusion of flight -- that makes some sylphs so unforgettable. (But the fact that I found myself mentally assessing her in relation to some of the best Sylphs I've seen should tell you something.)

Bret Coppa, a company apprentice, was very much a comic--even dopey Gurn. (I think that's the production not his personal choice.) Francesca Loi--one of the company's most beautiful woman--a malicious, furious, over-the-top Madge. I think she should have restrained herself from audibly spitting on James at the end and just mimed it, but it gives you an idea of the intensity she brought to the part.  Alvarado's Effie was pleasant, but I bet with more experience she will be able to do more with the role, and this production doesn't include the moment (or the performance I saw didn't include the moment) when Effie is walking in the marriage party with Gurn and seems to intuit James's presence...stopping  to turn as if she sensed him nearby...a moment I always find very touching. But I think the best "secondary role" dancing I saw this afternoon came from Jackie Nash--who also is dancing Effie with a different cast. As a semi-featured dancer in this cast's Act I, her crisp, fast footwork and lively presence made for a miniature highlight within the party festivities. I would love to have seen her Effie and if the company ever stages a Bournonville Variations type ballet would like to see her given a shot in something like the pas de six and tarantella of Napoli--I think she would tear up the stage in the latter--or maybe even in something like Flower Festival pas de deux (?). Anyway, she looked great.

If the Cobb Energy Center were less difficult for me to get to and...uh...I didn't have to work, then I would have tried to see all three casts of this Sylphide (Carrico and Martin danced the opening with Nadia Mara as Effie; Assef and Gaifullin are alternating with them in other evening performances with Nash as Effie) -- and I very much enjoyed this afternoon's performance.

Edited by Drew
clarification/fixing typos
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