La Sylphide

Ballet Austin's first brush with Bournonville showed his style suiting the dancers

Arts Review

La Sylphide

Dell Hall at the Long Center

Feb. 11

La Sylphide is a wonderful little ballet. It has a clear plot and a perfect balance of the ethereal, the human, and the evil. Full of sprightly, bouncy dancing, it is compact yet rich, and there is

plenty of humor. For about three-quarters of the ballet, things are pleasant, and the interventions of the old witch, Madge, seem inconsequential and silly. You're certain that there will be a happy ending: that young James will cease following the sylph – an intoxicating, mischievous forest sprite somewhere between a fairy and an insect – that Madge will leave young love alone, and that James and his fiancée, Effie, will have their sweet, provincial marriage. But before you know it, the once-effervescent sylph is making her death-shudders, Effie is doomed to a lifetime of loveless marriage with the next bloke in line, and Madge is standing over James as he collapses in death.

The ballet is the only tragic work by 19th century Danish choreographer August Bournonville, whose work is full of small jumps and fancy footwork with relatively simple upper-body movements. This simplicity is deceiving. It can be much harder to jump without moving one's arms – try it! – and it's exceedingly difficult to keep the arms and face looking calm and serene while the legs and feet are going gonzo down below. Ballon, or the quality of appearing to suspend oneself in midair at the top of a jump, is important, as is a soft, deep plié. Beautifully arched feet are a plus. When the women and men dance together, they often perform the same steps side by side, unlike the high lifts and supported turns in the pas de deux of Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake.

Stagings of La Sylphide are generally faithful to Bournonville's 1836 version, set to a score by Herman Severin Løvenskiold. (An Italian version of the ballet, with different music, preceded his but is no longer performed.) Since the ballet never left the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet, nothing much has been "lost." In Ballet Austin's staging, the dancers embody the gentle characters and strong-soft style, and the costumes and set, on loan from Boston Ballet, are perfect. It's a pity that the run for this production was only three performances.

I saw the Friday/Sunday cast, with Aara Krumpe as the sylph and Frank Shott as James. (Ashley Lynn Gilfix and Paul Michael Bloodgood performed the roles Saturday.) Krumpe's light jumps, attention to line and placement, and vivid dramatic qualities were the basis for her lush and humanistic sylph. Shott held up well under many of the demands of the unforgiving choreography, but at times his beats and landings were a bit smudged. James is a difficult role to act. Ideally, he leaves Effie because he is blinded by his enchantment with the sylph, not because he's an idiot who doesn't know what's what, and that infatuation didn't quite come across in Shott's portrayal.

In the role of Effie (in both casts), Anne Marie Melendez looked beautiful. Her lovely feet and supple plié are perfect for the style, and she brought a youthful innocence to the role. However, her Effie was also a bit feckless, a quality that not only minimizes the viewer's sympathy for her when James splits but also dilutes James' motivation to do so – if she's just a silly girl, was James enchanted by the sylph or just looking for any way out of the marriage? Unfortunately, too, Melendez's challenges with drama and projection continue to plague her performances. Even when Effie breaks into sobs after James leaves her at the wedding, Melendez didn't seem to be projecting far enough to reach my row (orchestra M), so I can imagine that the folks up in the balcony saw nothing much at all.

Not to say the cast did poorly – all things considered, they pulled it off rather well. I hope Ballet Austin revisits La Sylphide once Michelle Thompson, who might have made a good Effie, and Jaime Lynn Witts, whom I would have loved to see in both lead roles, are back from maternity leave. Perhaps, too, the company will stage other Bournonville works, as the style seems to suit the dancers or at least presents a happy challenge.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
Arts Review
Fusebox Festival 2012
This year the fest's dance works provoked questions about inequity, grrrl power, fame, and change

Jonelle Seitz, May 11, 2012

Arts Review
April Fools
Acia Gray mines vaudeville for lost treasures of tap and makes them dazzle again

Robert Faires, April 6, 2012

More by Jonelle Seitz
Blue Lapis Light's <i>Belonging, Part One</i>
Blue Lapis Light's Belonging, Part One
The work's dancers, whether on the ground or sailing through the air, were beacons of human hope and empathy

Sept. 28, 2018

Aztlan Dance Company's <i>The Enchilada Western: Texas Deep Fried</i>
Aztlan Dance Company's The Enchilada Western: Texas Deep Fried
In the troupe's latest choreodramas, dancing desperados persisted and partied

Aug. 31, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

La Sylphide, Ballet Austin, Aara Krumpe, Frank Shott, Anne Marie Melendez

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle