Choreographer: August Bouronville
Composer: Herman Severin Lovenskiold
Love’s a fickle mistress, isn’t she? A romantic ballet of two halves, Taglioni’s La Sylphide, revived by August Bouronville, is one of the world’s oldest surviving ballets. Set against the quaint, mystical romances of Scotland, this performance courtesy of the English National Ballet, produced by The Royal Danish Theatre, is streaming live to promote the significance dance provides in storytelling, community, and art. A tale of romanticism, judgement, and enchantment, La Sylphide leans to exaggerations of Scottish culture but has foundations in the country’s history of movement and wealth of myth.
Infatuated by a Sylph, an air sprite, James finds himself succumbing to his temptations of the fae and rejecting his fiancé Effie. As lead danseur, Isaac Hernandez has confident control of the stage, but his expression outside of his precise needle-footwork can’t match that of Jurgita Dronina’s Sylph – an ethereal being who maintains the production’s historical influence of promoting en-pointe as a narrative tool of the gentleness of the sprite, rather than for a show of technique.
Brigadoon has nothing on these settings or costumes, sublime, colourful and as tartan-clad as a tourist shop on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It’s entirely in good taste, with exaggerated period-accurate garb for the most part, with the occasional outfit playing into the ease of visual aesthetic of the danseur, particularly Giorgio Garrett’s Gurn with a kilt which wouldn’t feel amiss in Hollister.
A merging of two dance forms, technically impressive due to the differing footwork, the featherlike steps of ballet are instead subject to the heavy, authoritative stomps of a Scottish ceilidh, and the marriage of Scottish passion with French elegance is marvellously enrapturing – think less Flying Scotsman, more Dansante Ecossais.
Equally, as the different styles of ballet, Highland, and Scottish country dance find an even playing field, building upon one another as individual movement forms, so too does the orchestra lend itself to re-enforcing the dance. The orchestra gradually builds with the soft-toe approach of exemplary entrechat precisions, to the higher leaps of Scottish country, the richness of the brass enhances the first act as the troupe routine in the farmhouse builds to a triumphant climax as love is spurned, decisions are made and fate casts a glance.
Transitioning into Act Two, the atmosphere is secured with Jorn Melin’s lighting of the glens, a mirage of blues and warm summer reds blend into the distance as our dancers return to the stage. Not before a brief, unnerving, return of the enchantress, bathed in the depth of midnight, all setting the scene for the arrival of the tour de force of the troupe’s signature number as the remaining sprites decent upon the stage, elevating Herman Severin Lovenskiold’s score and tempo into a soft-footed routine of the utmost delicacy.
As far as the videography of the recording goes, it’s basic, a cut and dry frontal recording of the stage with minimal changes outside of edits drawing us closer to the stage or a particular performer. Detracting in troupe routines, the editing focuses the audience where they wish them to, rather than allowing them to appreciate the other danseuses who are equally as talented as the Prima.
In essence, pure dance can be sublime, as can La Sylphide, but if each component isn’t thundering with excellence, the short production doesn’t have time to give its all. A few dancers are unable to, pun intended, stretch their legs or capabilities, which are plainly evident but seldom utilised. At just over an hour, the sense of mysticism interweaving the forms of dance creates a concise production that finishes just as it takes off the ground.
Available here until 3 July 2020