Oops.

12 Oct

So I’m working my way through the stack of library DVD’s, ready to come back to the world of the living after a Romeo and Juliet overload.  Next in queue was La Sylphide, and I was really excited to see the Bournonville ballet especially because of its unique, completely authentic preservation.  Whereas most ballets are fossils that are spotty at best and can only give glimpses to their true histories, Bournonville’s Sylphide is like an insect preserved in a shiny piece of honey colored Baltic amber, leaving us with no questions as to what it looked like.  And yes, I have a thing for amber fossils…they fascinate me, and I totally ogled this piece of Dominican amber that had an extremely rare, fully preserved hymenaea blossom, which is a remarkable inclusion.  Insects are more commonly found because they were attracted to the tree sap and also because of their hard exoskeletons which didn’t degrade quickly, while soft organic materials like leaves and flowers are less common because they would rot quickly and needed to be covered faster, which would actually sometimes damage leaves and flower petals by rolling them.  So the circumstances for a blossom to be fully preserved with petals intact meant that a flower had to fall onto some tree sap, be covered quickly but carefully so that it remained open.  It’s an extraordinary occurrence, and the $2000 price tag certainly reflects that!

Anyway, I thought I was all clever because I had learned of the difference between La Sylphide and Les Sylphides beforehand, because when you’re knew to ballet it’s an easy mistake to make.  However, like the flower fossilized in amber, Bournonville’s ballet eludes me still, as it turned out I borrowed Pierre Lacotte’s staging with the Paris Opera Ballet.  Oops.  Serves me right for assuming I knew what I was getting myself into.  However, the Paris Opera DVD features the wonderful Aurélie Dupont, who I adore, partnered by the magnificent Mathieu Ganio, who I had never seen before.  The plot was the same, so the bits that I read about it still matched.  The staging was different in that Lacotte drew upon sparse notes and drawings of the original La Sylphide for Marie Taglioni who danced it with the Paris Opera Ballet.  Wait…what?  Ok, so it goes that the original La Sylphide was choreographed by Filippo Taglioni for his daughter Marie, who danced it in Paris in 1834, where August Bournonville saw it and wanted to do his own version so he staged his two years after seeing the original for a favorite pupil of his, Lucile Grahn, with the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836.  Long story short, the Taglioni was lost, the Bournonville preserved.  Lacotte draws upon sketches and notes to try and recreate what he thought the Taglioni would have looked like.

It’s always a shame (and kind of annoying) when ballet history is so fuzzy, but perhaps the ambiguity and mystery are what draws me to it (and fossils) and the opposite is what makes recorded history such a snooze.  I’m fascinated by Marie Taglioni, mostly because Pierre Lacotte said in the extras that the crossed position of the arms developed as a way to mask the uber-lengthiness of her arms and I was all “I have long arms!” and now the crossed arms is very much a part of the Romantic style.  Dupont also talked about having to wear a corset in rehearsals, which other cast members and various people were riled by as misogynist and whatnot, but Lacotte’s intention was to see how having to wear corsets (which the women did) affected the look and technique of the dancing.  Dupont said the corset sort of forces a forward posture of the torso, which changed the line of the arabesque leg, and sleeves changed how the port de bras moved (port de bras being something Taglioni was complimented on as well).  Kind of sucks for the dancers that had to wear the corsets for rehearsals, and Dupont said it took a while to get used to, but it’s an interesting detail nonetheless.

I actually loved Lacotte’s choreography, because it was so technically demanding with itsy-bitsy beats and such but I’m finding it hard to believe this is how they danced early/mid-19th century because quite frankly, it was very difficult.  Inspiration from Taglioni with a hefty dose of artistic liberties I’d say, but it’s still a wonderful Sylphide.  Ganio is so young in the video as well, a mere twenty years old, but he had these buoyant jumps, and incredibly clean beats.  I was very impressed by his dancing, and he did one of my favorite steps, the brisé volé,  So I had my “olé!” moment as well.  He was a truly naïve James, captivated by the Sylph and so sad when she died.  Watching Ganio dance the role made me feel as though he didn’t intend to hurt Effie, he was simply mesmerized by the unattainable, and it wasn’t until the penultimate moment did he realize what he had done.  Dupont was gorgeous in every way imaginable, and subtle in her teasing of James.  She was ethereal, curious, and yet so tragic at the end.  Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this was a ballet that made me sad when everyone died.  Although I’m still not fully on board with the “go insane and die” in the way that James does and a la Giselle too…but I guess people at the time found that seriously romantic.

Some might argue that the Sylph was a figment of James’ imagination and never existed in the first place (the pas de trois between him, Effie and the Sylph could indicate that as a possibility), and so this ballet is a lesson about infidelity and chasing pipe dreams and myths, but those people need to get out of the 21st century and stop being so pragmatic.  HELLO!  Romantic ballet, key word, starts with an “R” and ends with an “omantic.”  Clearly, the character Madge (who I think I want to be one day) exists, and I see this story being more about man’s love for nature, and the destructive power of that love when he tries to possess it.  Like enjoying a bouquet of flowers inside of our home, as a belonging to us, inevitably kills them.  It’s similar to what Tamara Rojo had to say about Ondine, in that a fairy cannot be owned.  So I really enjoyed it, especially the score which I read that is different from Bournonville’s, because he was a cheapskate and couldn’t afford the original, so he bought a different one.  Lacotte’s Sylphide uses the original score Taglioni used, by Jean Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer (lord Billy that’s a mouthful!), which felt…I hesitate to say this, but Mozart-ish, and very classic-classical if you know what I’m saying (some crotchety music historian would probably slap me for this comparison, but there isn’t much information on Schneitzhoeffer.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made this kind of mistake either, so I’m okay with it.)

An excerpt featuring exceptional jumps by Mathieu Ganio (So many little beats!  Looks like men have to work on petite allegro after all!)

And the whole thing is also available on youtube in fourteen parts, this being the first.  The DVD is wonderful quality though, so I’d defos recommend it!

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2 Responses to “Oops.”

  1. Emilia October 13, 2009 at 7:54 am #

    La Sylphide is one of my very favorite balletic topics. Having seen this “reconstruction” of the Lacotte version you should now def. get your hands on the Royal Danish Bournonville and compare. In my opinion Bournonville is a case study for a “remake that is better than the original”. Much much better.

    It’s all to do with the symbolic dimension he gives to the story in the choreography. Things like, for instance having the dancers in character shoes in the 1st act (I cannot understand why Effie’s friends wear pointes in the POB version!!) to emphasize the contrast between the 2 worlds which so divide James. And in the 2nd act pas de deux B. respects the storyline: James does try but he can never touch the Sylph until he is given the “scarf of doom”. Personally I think the POB approach is insensitive and destroys the symbology.

    Very curious to read your views when you get to see the Bournonville version. It’s such a precious ballet.

    • youdancefunny October 13, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

      This makes me more excited for the Bournonville!

      HAHA, “scarf of doom.” I wonder if people would understand if I wore a kilt and ran around this Halloween with a long piece of white chiffon in tow.

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