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Photo: Maarten Holl
Photo: Maarten Holl
La Sylphide
Choreography: August Bournonville
Producer: Matz Skoog
Design: Anne Fraser
Music: Herman Lovenskjold
Lighting: Jon Buswell

Choreography: August Bournonville
Staged by: Gary Harris and Greg Horsman
Design: Gary Harris
Music: Eduard Helsted, Holger Paulli
Lighting: Jon Buswell

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 30 Jul 2009 to 2 Aug 2009

Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 1 Aug 2009

La Sylphide is one of the great romantic ballets and this was a fabulous rendering of it. The Royal New Zealand Ballet's founding father Poul Gnatt mounted the work in the Bournonville style for the company in 1958 not long after its inception.

The Bournonville style, essentially the unfiltered 19th century technique of the French school of classical dance, is light and airy with lightening fast and assured petite batterie for the feet and a soft rounded use of the arms. It is a pleasing form and in this production the company, dancing finely, step up to evoke a world of mystery and beauty.

There is a realness about the performers that is impressive; they exude a sureness that pays credit to former RNZB director Matz Skoog's role as Producer. I had the sense that the dancers have a well integrated sense of the style and the Romantic ballet idiom.

Equally impressive is their acting; the characters are well delivered and we are drawn into the world of the ballet right from the very first moments when Antonia Hewitt as Sylph evokes the spirit of the famous Marie Taglioni from the first production of the work by her father Filippo Taglioni in 1932: that the Bournonville lineage has remained unbroken to the present day - kept alive by the Royal Danish Ballet and passed down through generations of dancers and choreographers - is cause for celebration.

The acting allows us to ride the dramatic trajectory of the dance and to be engrossed in the enchantment taking place. The mimetic gestures are deeply inhabited and have a sense to them that I often find lacking in ballet.

The production is greatly aided by the incredible costumes and stunning sets by the late Anne Fraser on loan from the Australian Ballet. Under the baton of Marc Taddei the Wellington Vector Orchestra delivered fine renderings of Herman Lovenskjold's score for La Sylphide and Hoger Pualli/Eduard Helsted score for Dances from Napoli

It is intriguing that La Sylphide is set in Scotland - I wonder if there was some influence from Shakespeare here or a nod to the close histories of Nordic climes and the Scottish highlands. 

A romance develops between a Sylph or forest sprite and a gentleman farmer James (Michael Braun) that causes James to run off with the Sylph into the forest jilting his betrothed Effie (Adriana Harper), who very quickly takes up with the best man Gurn (Rory Fairweather- Neylan). However an old crone/witch (Madge) - brilliantly portrayed as always by Jon Trimmer with his immaculate comic timing - who has a less that cordial relationship with James conjures up some mischief so that eventually the Sylph and James fall prey to a scarf that Madge has infused with poison.

Michael Braun brings a fresh energy to the part with and ease and fluidity to his variations; he is totally believable in the role, as is the chemistry between him and the Sylph who keeps reappearing in his smoky Scottish lodge.

The duet between Braun and Antonia Hewitt after she comes in through the window on the forest breeze is enchanting and lovely; it is immensely satisfying to see this kind of rapport onstage. Antonia Hewitt is exquisite throughout, dripping with serenity and grace then surprising with deep penchees and dynamic split leaps; particularly moving in her death scene.

Rory Fairweather-Neyland brings great gusto and precision to his role and his balon is impressive.

Lead Sylph Abigail Boyle dances with exquisite timing and line as does Renee Von Stein and Katie Hurst-Saxon as the Leading Sylphs. I was mesemerised by the corp de ballet in Act II, they are exquisite in their unison and their commitment to movement; a breathless quality as if we can see their souls dancing.

The evening begins with another Bournonville classic with Dances from Napoli, a technically demanding work which - on opening night - became more fluid and pleasing as the dancers warmed up and I am sure it will develop more fizz with further performances. The Pas de Six works well as a unit with the men exhibiting precise footwork and balon and the women pleasing arabesques. I particularly like the way the women use their heads in travelling steps. There is a beautiful marriage of music and movement as well as a dynamic use of the stage space.

Clytie Campbell and Michael Braun shine in the famous Flower Festival Duet.

Company director Gary Harris's beautiful costume design brings the piece alive and in the final scene the stage is ablaze with swirling colour as the whole company revels in a joyous tarantella; the final sequence of jetes coming forward in a line is stunning.

This was a highly enjoyable and satisfying evening of ballet.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.

See also reviews by:
 Jennifer Shennan (The Dominion Post);
 Kerri Fitzgerald
 Bernadette Rae (New Zealand Herald);
 Nicholas Rowe


Michael Braun posted 16 Jan 2013, 09:21 PM

I'd love to do this ballet again. Or at least see it performed! :D

Almost made me wish I was scottish - the kilt isn't such bad attire.

On second thoughts, I remember it being bloomin hard to jump in! (I was wearing undies!)