ABT'S LA SYLPHIDE, MET OPERA HOUSE, NEW YORK CITY, MAY, 1994
|From: THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 30,
Dance Review by Anna Kisselgoff
BOURNONVILLES SYLPH: THREE INTERPERTATIONS
A prosperous Scottish farmer is about to marry when suddenly his life is disrupted by a woodland sylph. That is the deceptively slender pretext for one of the most enchanting ballets of all time, «La Sylphide», as it has come down in the celebrated version that August Bournonville choreographed for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836.
In 1983, Erik Bruhn, another giant of Danish ballet, restaged the work with surprising and effective baronial splendor for American Ballet Theater. It is this version, highlighted by three very different and sterling casts, that returned to the company over the weekend. Only two more Metropolitan Opera House performances (tonight and Tuesday) remain of this remarkably fresh and vibrant production.
As the touchstone of Romantic ballet, «La Sylphide» typically placed James, its hero, in a picturesque locale, in this case, Scotland. Here, too, the reality of everyday life was contrasted with the supernatural. James, after insulting Madge, a witch who has entered his home, is enticed into the domain of a mysterious sylph.
In short, James seeks to escape reality, and in chasing illusion finally meets his doom. That is exactly the kind of disharmony of the human soul that was natural to the French Romanticism at the root of «La Sylphide». But Bournonville, in his later works, found it anathema and taught his heroes a different moral. After learning the foolishness of their ways, they returned to home and hearth.
«La Sylphide" is the only extant Bournonville ballet with a tragic ending, and yet, oddly, it is also his best work, incorporating a unity of dance and drama that can transform its apparent charm into a special grandeur.
The ballet, in fact, can be interpreted In different ways...
There is a darker interpretation possible, and the most interesting performance came on Friday night when Nina Ananiashvili and Lloyd Riggins appeared in the ballet for the first time with the company.
The demonic side of the sylph that some Danish ballerinas have emphasized was suggested by Miss Ananiashvili in the beginning of Act II. There was a malicious glint in her eye as she suddenly looked at Mr. Riggins; she became selfish and capricious with no pretense at her former surface prettiness.
For Miss Ananiashvili was indeed more bold than delicate. She virtually flew about the stage with her astonishing leaps. There was an extraordinary lightness to these space-devouring jetes, which contrasted with her exceptional skimming steps on toe. If her arms were more free-form than in the Bournonville style, she could also clap her hands delightfully when the choreography required.
Mr. Riggins, who made his debut on Friday with Ballet Theater, is an American principal with the Royal Danish Ballet, and he always had the perfect Bournonville arms. This was visible in his brilliantly danced solo in Act I when he held his arms down during his quick sharply phrased leg beats and then opened them for his leaps. Sometimes overshadowed by Miss Ananiashvili, his James became a callow simple youth...