YOUR LA SYLPHIDE VIEWING GUIDE

Posted on 26 May 2020 By Rose Mulready

We’re about to transform your loungeroom into a forest glade with the Romantic classic La Sylphide. Make sure you cosy up warm – we’re going to Scotland, where the dreamy hero James is set to marry his childhood sweetheart. But after a visit from an enchanting fairy, he ditches his fiancée and follows the Sylphide to her woodland home. Rev up for this poignant two-act work (or recover afterwards) with the sparkling Paquita, a pure-dance party piece by Marius Petipa, the creator of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

Wings on? Flit through this viewing guide to pinpoint crucial moments, enjoy fun facts and dive deeper into the beauty of the Romantic age.

Here’s a snippet to start us off: in the original production of La Sylphide, the ballerinas actually flew through the air on wires - a perilous undertaking in the 1800s! 

La Sylphide and Paquita are proudly brought to you by our Official Pointe Shoe Partner Bloch.

WHICH VERSION IS THIS?

The first production of La Sylphide, starring Marie Taglioni, premiered in 1832 – and caused a sensation. Drifting on the tips of her toes through the soft gaslight, peacock-feather wings at her back, Taglioni was the epitome of the unearthly, elusive muse so beloved of Romantic art. The stage was set for the wilis of Giselle, the shades of La Bayadère and the enchanted swan maidens of Swan Lake.

In 1836 August Bournonville, a soloist and choreographer with the Royal Danish Ballet, made his own version of the ballet, fleshing out the role of James and giving him more dancing. Thanks to the Royal Danish Ballet’s loving preservation of Bournonville's works, this is the version of La Sylphide that has been handed down the generations in the most complete form. The Danish superstar Erik Bruhn, a contemporary of Rudolf Nureyev, staged this version. He came out to teach it to The Australian Ballet in 1985 and played the part of Madge, the witch who sets out to wreak vengeance on James. It was his last role: he died the following year.

Watch out for: The quick, fluttering footwork, with lots of fast beats for both men and women, that is the chief characteristic of the Bournonville style.

Fun fact: James can not touch the Sylphide, as he is human and she is a fairy – his touch will damage her. So, unlike in most ballets where the pas de deux are full of holds and lifts, in La Sylphide the lead characters always dance with air between them.  

Deep dive: Ghosts in the gaslight … dance historian Valerie Lawson captures the moment when Romantic ballet was born. Oh, and here's the story of the ballet - spoiler alert! 

Jade Wood and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Lynette Wills

WHO DANCES THE LEAD ROLES?

Leanne Stojmenov is the Sylphide, and Daniel Gaudiello is James. These two former principal artists of The Australian Ballet had a long and starry partnership; they were the original Cinderella and Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Both are nimble, fluid dancers, which makes them perfect for the fleet footwork and soaring jumps of Bournonville’s choreography.

Watch out for: The Bournonville jeté, where the back leg is bent in attitude, creating a charming arc as the dancer leaps (demonstrated by Dan in this photo).

Fun fact: Daniel and Leanne also danced the lead roles of Paquita together in 2013.

Deep dive: That’s what she said … we decode the mime of La Sylphide. Did you know there’s a moment when the Sylphide picks strawberries for James?

Photography Jeff Busby / Daniel Boud

ALL ABOUT ... THE ROMANTIC TUTU

Marie Taglioni’s long gauze skirts kicked off a craze in the fashionable capitals of Europe for all things diaphanous, airy and fluttery. They’ve never really gone out of fashion: think of Marilyn Monroe clutching a Romantic tutu to her breasts in that Milton H. Greene photo shoot, or Carrie Bradshaw drifting through Paris in sea-foam green tulle.

Watch out for: The way the skirts of the Romantic tutu billow and float around the dancer as they move, emphasising their line and lightness.

Fun fact: Taglioni became such a style icon that all manner of fashionable items, including turbans, parasols and corsets, bore her name. The young Queen Victoria owned a horse called Taglioni.

Deep dive: Our dancers talk about the tool of their trade, the tutu.

Imogen Chapman and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Lynette Wills

HOW ABOUT PAQUITA?

You’re in for a ballet feast! Dazzling variation succeeds dazzling variation in this blinged-out celebration of classical dance. Paquita was originally a full-length ballet in which a gypsy girl falls in love with a high-born gentleman. Of course, their romance is impossible … until she is found to be adopted and of high birth as well. The party piece you’re about to see is their wedding scene, extracted from the rest of the ballet, which is almost never performed these days. It stars Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson, whom you may have seen as the Prince and Princess in our production of The Sleeping Beauty, which kicked off our At Home with BalletTV season. And it’s by the same choreographer, Marius Petipa.

Watch out for: The patterns that Petipa makes with the dancers. Valerie Lawson describes it thus: “The ballerina and the premier danseur are the brilliant centre jewels within the circlet of the corps de ballet.”

Fun fact: The exquisite tutus, designed by Hugh Colman, were originally used for a production of George Balanchine’s Themes and Variations.

Deep dive: Read about Petipa’s saucy Spanish salad days – including illicit kisses, balcony climbing and duels.

Benedicte Bemet. Photography Jeff Busby