The Royal Danes’ La Sylphide at Zellerbach

16 Jul

The Royal Danish opening  with two performances of La Sylphide, the 1836 version by August Bournonville with a beguiling multi-generational company of seventy dancers, required a forty-five minute intermission following Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson.  An additional thirty minute intermission between Acts I and II was needed, but the audience didn’t seem to mind if one could judge by the response at the curtain.

The entirely different casts, provided their own excellences,; the second danced with more ease since scenery shifts devoured all the desired stage rehearsal time of the dancers for the opening.
During the second night’s first intermission former S.F. Ballet soloist, Danish- born Peter Brandenhoff, introduced American-born soloist Gregory Dean who gave the audience appropriate information to fill the lengthy pause.

La Sylphide recounts the story of a young sylph, enamoured of James, a betrothed Scotsman, who lures him away from Effy, his fiancé moments before his wedding, after he has tussled with a rival, Gurn, and antagonized Madge, a crone seeking warmth at the family  fireside. Obviously  Madge takes dire umbrage over James’ treatment.  This act allows the Danish children to participate in the collective dances, the audience to relish pipers and brilliant stylized Scottish variations by James, Effy and Gurn following the fey flirtatious dancing of the Sylph.

In Act II, The Sylph introduces James to her woodland bower, offering him natural tokens from the glade;  he tries to possess her.  Just before this bucolic scene, Madge is seen stirring a diaphanous scarf in a cauldron, to which her unsightly and bent cronies bring odious additions,  ominous prelude to the following bucolic landscape.

At the woodland glade, James is further frustrated by the other sylphs who screen his vision from his grasp.  The lines they form and the patterns woven give an inkling of some of Petipa’s source material for Bayadere and Swan Lake.  La Sylphide, however, is largely sunny, if the unearthly heroine is doomed and her lover soon to follow.  Just before Madge gives the scarf to James, she engineers Gurn’s proposal to Effie.  Madge offers the scarf to James who entices the sylph with it, wraps it around her with fatal results; she dies and is airborne off to sylph heaven leaving James to face Madge’s wrath and vengeance.

Guesting Caroline Cavallo and Gudren Bojesen shared the Sylph’s role, with the American born Cavallo delivering a more stylized version and Bojesen Nordic and exquisitely flighty.
Their James were Mads Blangstrup and Ulrik Brikkjaer, the former with a long classical line; the famed Bournonville aerial dynamics both shared equally. Of the  Gurns, Nicolai Hansen and Alexander Staeger, the latter provided more dimension. Camille Ruelykke Holst’s Effy was less willing at the marital switch, Louise Ostergaard more safely compliant. Former Sylph Lis Jeppersen and Sorella Englund as Madge contrasted expansive versus incisive gestures and movement, the latter’s containment signaling more familiarity with the role.

Whatever the difficulties, the Danish style and form sparkled clearly, underplayed but carefully displayed like a housewife’s domestic polish for silver and glassware. We get enough fireworks; quiet sheen is refreshing.

Let’s hope Cal Performances brings them back at an early opportunity.

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