Bolshoi's La Sylphide

My last memory of La Sylphide was the Royal Danish Ballet's transcendent performance during their tour to NYC last year. I thought nothing could erase those memories, but this morning the Bolshoi Ballet proved once again that they are the ballet company that can indeed dance everything. Thirty years ago, they probably would have looked completely lost in the Bournonville style, but today they were absolutely wonderful.

The production is by Johan Kobborg, himself trained at the Royal Danish Ballet. He's now a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet but he's staged his very orthodox La Sylphide for several companies. He deserves credit for obviously coaching the Bolshoi dancers to drop their "Russian-isms" and adapt to the more modest, low-key Bournonville style. Gone for the most part were the darting diagonal grande jetes -- they were replaced with the Bournonville style jumps which tend to travel in an arc around, rather than across the stage. The arms were kept low except for those thrilling moments when they are raised triumphantly in tight fifth position. Even the mime (a traditional Bolshoi weakness) was clearly articulated.

The principal dancers were on the whole excellent. Ekaterina Krysanova was on the serious side for a Sylph in Act One, but her light airy jumps and beats were a delight to watch. You could understand why James was so entranced with this spirit. Vyacheslav Lopatin as James was technically faultless, but dramatically I found him to be sort of wrong. James is supposed to be much moodier and introspective than Lopatin made him -- Lopatin seemed to have walked in from Coppelia. There was none of the visible restlessness and dissatisfaction that the Danes so clearly spelled out last year in their performances.

Denis Savin as Gurn in contrast actually projected more romantic angst. Anna Rebetskaya was a lovely Effie, and played exactly right -- pretty but a bit shallow, and a great foil for the ethereal, alluring Sylph. I also liked Irina Zibrova's Madge. Zibrova is a beautiful lady and she introduced an element of frustrated sexuality in her portrayal. This Madge acts like a jealous, jilted lover towards James. In the final moments of the ballet, as James is lying prostrate on the floor, Zibrova lifted up her skirts to reveal just enough thigh, and walked off in triumph. Hell hath no fury ...

The Bolshoi corps as usual were remarkable -- they excelled both in the Scottish character dancing in Act One and the great ballet blanc of Act Two. I thought they'd have trouble with Bournonville's lightning fast petit batterie but they didn't. They really are a company in amazing shape currently.

It seems like this ballet is never done enough, even though it's never been out of the repertoire. Every time I watch it I marvel at the beauty of Lovenskiold's score, and the richness of Bournonville's choreography.


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