In La Sylphide, the handsome young farmer James looks like a catch – but turns out to be the kind of guy who would dump you mid-wedding to chase off into the forest after a seductive aerial sprite. Luckily his buddy Gurn is there to pick up the pieces, having long loved James’ fiancée Effie. Why does it take Effie so long to notice Gurn? He has some of the ballet’s best comic moments, a snappy Act I solo, and by far the snazzier tartan. Moreover, he’s a good guy, willing to bury his feelings and celebrate James and Effie’s wedding (until it all goes horribly wrong).
Will Effie be happy with Gurn? He truly loves her, and shows no predilection for woodland spirits, so perhaps. But are we ever happy with our second choices? More importantly, are we ever happy in a match arranged by a spiteful witch? Madge wants Gurn and Effie to end up together as a revenge on James, who bundled her roughly out of his house when she sought rest at his fireside. She convinces Gurn to act against his better nature and pretend that he’s seen no sign of James in the forest, even though he’s just found his coat. The last we see of Gurn and Effie is them walking arm and arm from the glade, and Effie seems to be coming around to him; but she falters and faints as she passes by the Sylphide’s fallen wings. Is it a presentiment of grief for the couple?