Review: Boston Ballet’s ‘La Sylphide’ is a mesmerizing masterpiece

Angelica Potter

  • Boston Theatre Critic

Opening the show is the Boston Ballet Premiere of choreographer August Bournonville's Bournonville Divertissements. It features three selections from his vast work. Following intermission is the full length production of La Sylphide.

It all begins with an ethereal Pas de Deux from Flower Festival in Genzano danced by Seo Hye Han and Junxiong Zhao. They are a well matched pair who danced to the music of Edvard Helsted with ease. The upbeat Jockey Dance from From Siberia to Moscow featured fast footwork from soloists Isaac Akiba and Irlan Silva. The pair was playful and comedic in their interactions with one another as they portrayed jockeys at a horse race. While their piece was fun and engaging for the audience to watch, it was also sharply danced by the pair to the music of C.C. Møller.

Thirdly came Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli. Both were stylistically very similar to the earlier Pas de Deux with light, elevating movement. The upbeat group sections were reminiscent of the local Italian folk dancing Bournonville was inspired by. This selection featured Kathleen Breen Combes, Ji Young Chae, Lia Cirio, Ashley Ellis, Paul Craig, Patric Palkens and Lawrence Rines. The talent of the individual dancers was highlighted throughout the piece with each having their own solo moments. It was seamlessly performed with the dancers switching partners and various small group combinations throughout. They all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Even more so when tambourines were brought on and the dancers added percussion to the music of Holger Simon Paulli being played by the orchestra. This fun addition brought youthful energy and exuberance to the dancing. It was less “dancers performing on stage for an audience of hundreds” and more “a group of young people dancing with their friends, keeping tempo by hitting their tambourines.”  

 Photo Credit: Boston Ballet in August Bournonville's La Sylphide; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet. 

Photo Credit: Boston Ballet in August Bournonville's La Sylphide; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet. 

Following intermission the curtain rises on an immensely striking stone home where the tale begins. A story ballet from start to finish, La Sylphide is full of romance, sorcery and tragedy. Set in the Scottish Highlands, the scenic and costume design by Peter Cazalet and lighting design by John Cuff quickly transported the audience back in time and amplified the atmosphere surrounding the story. Bournonville's La Sylphide is one of the world's oldest surviving ballets. It is the story of James, a young Scotsman, who is set to marry Effie, but on the eve of their wedding he dreams of a beautiful sylph whom he, upon awakening, briefly sees before she mysteriously disappears. His friend Gurn has also fallen for Effie, but believes he'll never have the chance to be with her. That is until the village sorceress Madge tells Effie that it is Gurn she'll marry, not James. James is outraged and sends Madge away, but his outrage is quickly diminished when he sees the sylph playfully dancing around the room, apparently unseen by his other guests. When she leaves, James follows her, leaving Effie confused and crushed. Act two takes place in the forest, where witches dance around a cauldron, sylph's float through the trees and tragedy befalls James and his beautiful woodland fairy.

Patrick Yocum dances the role of James while Misa Kuranaga dances the role of the Sylph. He is strong and adventurous throughout with hints of boyish innocence. She, as always, is stunning and graceful. She’s the perfect embodiment of the playful fairy. When tragedy strikes, her body language completely changes and she crumbles as if merely standing is torture. The contrast between how she danced at the start and how she moved at the end was fantastic.

Derek Dunn portrayed Gurn, friend of James, and seemingly the comedic character within the ballet. The humorous elements of his role were strongly and clearly executed and received numerous chuckles from the audience. His soaring jumps make him a dancer to keep our eyes on in future Boston Ballet productions. The sorceress Madge is cunningly portrayed by Maria Alvarez who, from the way she walks to her facial expressions, fully embodies the darkness and conniving evil within her character.

This ballet features intricate footwork as well as dreamy and flowing romantic movement. It is playful and flirty with extensive character and acting moments. My one critique is that there were moments when certain hand gestures were barely visible and could have been easily missed had an audience member not been watching carefully. While we don’t want the acting and hand or arm motions to come across as forced, we also want them to be big enough and sustained long enough for the audience to see them.

Beautiful dancing and charismatic characters make this production an enjoyable evening of classical ballet. © Boston Ballet's La Sylphide plays at the Boston Opera House from May 24th- June 10th. The Boston Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. Though the production runs 2 and a half hours including 2 intermissions, time flies just as quickly as the dancers fly across the stage. For tickets and more information visit www.bostonballet.org

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