The fairy tale aspect of the ballet helped to make it a resounding success all over Europe in the nineteenth century. There are many opportunities in the ballet to focus on this “otherworld” aspect: the village wedding, the sylvan setting, the eerie gaslights to mark the passage of the fairies, the costumes and the ballerina’s variations on pointes. But what made it even more enchanting to nineteenth-century onlookers was the fusion by the ballet master Filippo Taglioni of artistic dance and mime, that gave birth to the first acte blanc in the history of ballet; and the fact that Taglioni’s daughter, Marie, enchanted and fascinated her audiences in the lead role. This infatuation spread throughout France: newspapers began calling themselves La Sylphide, words such as sylphide and taglioniser were added to the French language, and fashions saw diaphanous blouses and turbans sylphide. With this ballet, tutus became the standard “uniform” of ballet dancers. In spite of its huge success, La Sylphide disappeared from the Paris Opera’s repertoire for over a century, reconstituted in a version by Pierre Lacotte in 1971 that was based on Taglioni’s dance style, and the basis for this performance.
Set in Scotland, the story recounts the love of a mortal for a supernatural creature. James prepares for his marriage to Effie, a peasant girl. Secretly, though, his thoughts are possessed by a nocturnal vision of the beautiful Sylph. When the Sylph appears to him in real life, he follows her into the aerial realm inhabited by winged beings. His love for her is doomed, however, as the Sylph is no more than a frail and faint ghost, and the evil spells of the witch Madge eventually transform James into a hapless assassin.
The performance is rich and colorful, with numerous individual and group dance performances, lavish costumes, and spectacular scenery. Various levels of staging allow many of the dancers to observe and fly through the scenery throughout Act 2, when the drama takes place in the fairy realm. All the performers, including the witch, are magnificent in this recreation of one of the important ballets of the Romantic period.
Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas