Boca Ballet: La Sylphide


TLDR: I was disappointed to find out the ballet was performed by a school, at a local high school, but the show and dancers turned out to be lovely! So happy I went!

Last week I heard about the ballet La Sylphide, to be performed in Boca Raton on a day my husband was away on work. On those days I like to treat myself to the arts, since he's not interested in dance, opera, or classical music. I went ahead and bought the tickets (honestly I was intrigued by the thought of a ballet in kilts!) Though I went to university in Boca, I didn't get around much, so I recognized the name "Countess de Hoernle Theatre" as sharing a name with the large public park (and its small, lovely conservation area). It's really the name of the local high school's auditorium. Nope, not an arts school, like Dreyfoos, just a regular high school, with a significant patron. The auditorium was as you might expect, a bit dirty and shabby, and the seats are not especially sloped, so for the entire first third of the program (the "Enchanted Garden" section of the ballet Le Corsaire) I could only see the dancers from the waist up. I also discovered, that though I knew the principal dancers to be from the New York City Ballet, the rest of the dancers were from the Boca Ballet Theater... which turns out to be a ballet school.

But wait! Unlike the ballet itself, this story has a happy ending!
During the short intermission after "Enchanted Garden", I moved over a seat; the people booked next to me had not shown up! For the rest of the night I could see the whole stage. Many others shifted around at the same time, all seeking seats where we could see the dancers' feet (because isn't that the pointe? HA! *ba dum cha*).

Everyone, but me, seemed to know this was essentially a school production (the principal's abandoned fiance is danced by a 15-year-old girl). At first I worried my pre-expectation of a professional show would taint my opinion of the performance, but what the dancers lacked in technical perfection they made up for in enthusiasm, and not-quite-hidden brilliant smiles when they rotated to the front of the stage. It was a lovely show, and I had a lovely time. The school is putting on another production in August, Brilliant Summer, a mixed repertory concert exploring different genres of dance. I plan to see that one, too!

A Little History:

Marie Taglioni and her brother Paul in the
principal roles of La Sylphide;
François Gabriel Guillaume Lépaulle
(France, 1804-1886)
I hadn't heard of La Sylphide before, and the guest Emcee, Steven Caras (formed New York City Ballet dancer), told us of it's historical significance to dance. The work was originally penned by Filippo Taglioni in 1832, for his daughter/student Marie Taglioni to dance in. La Sylphide was the first ballet where dancing en pointe had an aesthetic rationale and was not merely an acrobatic stunt, often involving ungraceful arm movements and exertions, as had been the approach of dancers in the late 1820s. Marie was known for shortening her skirts in the performance of La Sylphide (to show off her excellent pointe work), which was considered highly scandalous at the time (Wiki). In 1836, August Bournonville wanted to use the with with the Royal Danish Ballet, but couldn't afford the original score. He created his own production of La Sylphide based on the original libretto (text), and this is the version that survives today. It is one of the oldest surviving ballets! Because it is such a short ballet, it is often accompanied by a scene from another ballet (in tonight's case, Le Corsaire). It also seems that La Sylphide was one of the first of the "ballets in white", which became the trademark of the Romantic Style (source).

The Story:

(Act I) The young Scottish farmer, James, dozes in a large armchair. The Sylphide (forest spirit) kneels by his side. She dances and kisses him on the forehead. James, awakens, confused. He is to be married that day to Effie, but the Sylphide, who is in love with James, tempts him. He runs after her, but she disappears up the chimney!

The preparations for the wedding at the farmhouse are in full swing. The hall is decorated, Effie's friends come with gifts, and she herself dances a little solo. The old fortune-teller Madge slips in to warm herself by the fire. James wants to throw her out but Effie convinces him to let her remain. She gulps down a couple glasses of brandy and begins to tell fortunes. Madge predicts that Gurn, James' rival, with marry Effie. James becomes furious and chases Madge out, and she curses him. Effie leaves to dress for the wedding, and James in alone with his melancholy and sadness.

The Sylphide shows herself at the window and in dance and mime declares her love for James, telling him she has followed him and protected him fr years when he went hunting in the forest. James hides her in the huge chair when the wedding festivities begin. Gurn and James dance the two male solos while the company dances the Scottish reel. James is obviously preoccupied and perplexed. The Sylphide shows herself to him the entire time; immediately before the wedding ceremony she succeeds in enticing him to join her in the forest. Effie dissolves in tears.

(Act II) The witch Madge is in the forest at night. Led by her, several witches are cooking a diaphanous scarf in a magic cauldron. The fog lifts, revealing a lovely glade. James enters with the Sylphide who shows him her realm, all the while avoiding being caught by him. Her fairy sylphide sisters dance their airy dances for him and James joins in the grand divertissement.

Meanwhile, young farmers have set out to look for James. Gurn finds his hat, but Madge convinces him to say nothing. Gurn proposes to the heartbroken Effie, who says yes.

When they have all left, James emerges and Madge gives him the scarf, telling him it will bind the Sylphide to him so she cannot fly away. James is delighted and when the Sylphide returns and sees the scarf, she is charmed by it and allows James to place it around her shoulders. The Sylphide sickens, her wings fall off, and she dies. As her sisters carry away her body, Madge emerges to gloat over James, showing him the wedding of Gurn and Effie. He collapses lifeless and Madge exults. She has taken her revenge.

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