Review of Qld Ballet’s La Sylphide
By Eric Scott, March 21, 2015
Photo by David Kelly: Clare Morehen as the Sylph and Hao Bin as James
Choreographed by Peter Schaufuss after August Bournonville
Music composed by Herman Severerin Lavenskjold
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: March 20-31. Running time: two hours including interval. Bookings: QTIX 136246.
This was my first time watching La Sylphide, which one of the first purely romantic ballets with its morality tale plot of the dangers of chasing the impossible dream, or in more modern terms – “be careful what you wish for”.
It is the tale of a love and a man obsessed by the unattainable sylph and her battle to evade what would be a fatal embrace. Add to this a forest full of fairy folk, unrequited love, a bevy of witches, some heart ache, laughter, comedy and tragedy and lots of bonny village lassies and lads, it all adds up to a charming piece of entertainment .
As well as being one of the oldest surviving romantic ballets it was also the first to use pointe work as an integral part of dance. It was fascinating to watch this Peter Schaufuss version after considering its historical significance.
The dancing was at times highly intricate but with less pointe work than usual these days – and I found the absence of pas de deux between the two major characters unusual too, but the characters of the principals prevented any physical contact.
The setting is Scotland so all the men wore kilts and the women, mainly heavy tartan dresses. James, danced on the night by Hao Bin, is visited by a sylph – danced by Clare Morehen, and is bewitched by the appearance of the girl that no one else can see.
He is engaged to be married to village girl Effie, a girl that his friend young Gurn is also in love with, James is convinced that the sylph was a dream and he pays attendance on the lovely Effie.
Then comes one of the highlights of the evening: a Scottish dance that even Michael Flatley would approve of. It was amazingly energetic and intricate and the stage was crowded with dancers, who somehow managed to stay in place, in time and not bump into each other. It was great to see the children dancing with such accuracy too.
But the fun ends when James sees what he thinks is the sylph by the fireplace but it turns out to be the witch Madge.
Finally his obsession sees him leave his girl at the altar and race off into the dark, deep woods to follow his sylph and to his doom.
Clare Morehen was a dream of a Sylph. She created an air of invisibility and otherworldliness as she combined playfulness with fear and love as she danced around, but never with, the man she was haunting. Her acting was first rate too.
She was very strong throughout her adagio passages and captured the period style of dance perfectly.
Hao Bin is an accomplished dancer and showed us why he is a principal with brilliant entrechat and leaps. This is the second time he has danced in a Scottish setting but I still have difficulty in accepting him as a Scotsman despite the kilt and tam o shanter.
I enjoyed Eleanor Freeman as Effie. She acted and performed her part strongly, as did Junior Soloist Emilio Pavan as Gurn. He is a very strong dancer and an excellent actor.
Madge, the witch was wonderfully acted by played by Janette Mulligan, and the opening scene of act two with her three fellow-witches, complete with the cauldron and overtones of Macbeth had the audience laughing gleefully.
The company’s character dancing was very precise and all the quick dance moves were performed with accuracy and the young children did a splendid job with the main group.
It was interesting to see a period piece performed, and performed well with excellent adagio pieces, leaping and flying men and beautiful costumes and set, and to learn more about the style of the ballet at that point, but the story line did not leave an indelible mark. It is similar in atmosphere as the later Giselle, but does not have the same power and drama.
Hao Bin shows his skill as James. Photo by David Kelly