La Sylphide

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Ballet in two acts with choreography by F. Taglioni, libretto by A. Nourrit, music by Schneitzhoeffer, sets by P. L. C. Ciceri, and costumes by E. Lami. Premiered 12 Mar. 1832 at the Paris Opera with M. Taglioni, Noblet, Mazilier, and Elie. It was the first fully fledged Romantic ballet. Based on Charles Nodier's Trilby, ou le Lutin d'Argail (1822), its plot and atmosphere were also inspired by the supernatural ‘Ballet of the Nuns’ which had appeared in Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable (1831). It tells the story of a young Scottish farmer, James, who is visited by the Sylphide on the eve of his wedding to Effie. She entices him away to the woods, where, enchanted by her, he wishes to keep her for ever. The evil witch Madge gives him a magic shawl to put around her shoulders but when he does so the Sylphide's wings fall off and she dies. As in so many Romantic ballets, the hero haplessly pursues an otherworldly beauty and in doing so destroys his chances of happiness in the real world. In the final scene, as James stands alone and distraught, Effie passes by on her way to marry her other suitor, Gurn. The ballet introduced many of the elements that dominated the Romantic movement—female dancers as supernatural beings dressed in white tulle, an intensely poetic atmosphere (created by the recently installed gas lamps at the Opera), and at the centre Taglioni herself, with her famously light jump and graceful facility in dancing on pointe. The ballet was performed all around the world, premiering in London and Berlin in 1832, New York and St Petersburg in 1835, and Vienna in 1836. An earlier version had been choreographed by L. Henry in Milan (1828) as La silfide, and Bournonville staged his own new version with music by Løvenskjold in Copenhagen 28 Nov. 1836 with himself and Grahn in the leading roles. This production is still in the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet and has been revived many times, including by von Rosen (Ballet Rambert, 1960), Bruhn (National Ballet of Canada, 1964), Lander (American Ballet Theatre, 1964), Brenaa (Scottish Ballet, 1973), P. Schaufuss (English National Ballet, 1979), D. Bjørn (Royal Danish Ballet, 2000 and Dutch National Ballet, 2001), and Kobborg (Royal Ballet, 2005, also Zurich Ballet and Kobayashi Ballet Tokyo). Productions using the Schneitzhoeffer score have been staged by V. Gsovsky (Ballets des Champs-Elysées, 1946), Adama (a version which also goes back to the original sources, Bremen, 1964), and Lacotte (Paris Opera, 1972).

Subjects: Dance.

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