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August 2, 2009 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

La Sylphide

Myself, knowing of ballet primarily through its music, has put a strain into writing this review. However, it is the link between the choreography and the music of a ballet is something that carries the other with it. The two works featured at last nights concert, Dances from Napoli, and La Sylphide, were both originally choreographed and staged for the Royal Danish Ballet by August Bournonville. The music, particularly of La Sylphide written by Baron Herman Lovenskjold claims itself to be the oldest existing romantic score for a ballet. It was undoubtedly its connection to such a choreographer as Bournonville that it is still known to this day.

The opening part of the show were a selection of dances taken from the third act of Napoli. Bournonville was inspired to create the ballet after his visit to Naples and took a lot from the colour, vibrancy and dynamism of the city. The dances chosen included the Tarantella which served as the inspiration of the ballet. The later reflected the characteristic egalitarian choreography that Bournonville was known for and tambourines used by the dancers also added an authentic edge to the Mediterranean inspiration. Set to the music of the danes Helsted and Paulli, however, it clashed. The score was less than interesting and resembled the music of melodic simplicity given to me by my violin teacher in high school. Nonetheless, it an interesting exposition of the choreography of Bournonville and a fair introduction to the realm of danish ballet.

La Sylphide found itself to be far more satisfying, however. The story was enchanting and bewitching, and in two acts was devastatingly beautiful in its subtlety. It tells of James (played by Michael Braun), on his wedding day being captivated by an elusive Sylph. In his efforts to capture her, she disappears. The décor and lighting created an almost cinematic panorama, through which the Sylph moves through the sight and grasp of all. Act one is set in a Scottish castle, with Kilts a clever costume incorporation – both by the late Anne Fraser. The score was commissioned by the Maître de Ballet en Chef, Bournonville, to the surprisingly young Lovenskjold. It is well orchestrated and often reflects the structure and melodies of the Classical period, at points rather akin to Gioacchino Rossini. The scenery of the second act being that of an ethereal forest to which James follows Sylph to find not just her but fourteen more. The ominous witch, old Madge, provides none with solace as she manipulates Gurn into marrying his friends’ fiancée, and James to finally capture the Sylph with a scarf, albeit poisoned. Her wings hence fall off as she dies in the embrace of James’ arms. Antonia Hewitt danced with such grace and fragility as Sylph, and her posture and acting truly airy.

My brief look at the ballet stage revealed a lot. Not only about the strong tradition that runs through Danish ballet, but the involvement of the Royal New Zealand Ballet within that. The concert a wonderful display of the choreography of August Bournonville and the way that it is being preserved. Much applause goes to Marc Taddei and the Vector Wellington Orchestra who support the RNZB and have since 2005. Without Marc, they wouldn’t much get one foot off the ground.

Royal New Zealand Ballet

St James Theatre, Wellington – 7:30 p.m. Saturday 1 August 2009

La Sylphide:

Producer: Matz Skoog

Choreography – August Bournonville

Music – Herman Lovenskjold

with Marc Taddei and the Vector Wellington Orchestra


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