Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Ballets

La Sylphide had been on my (unwritten, highly informal) list of ballets I most wanted to see for awhile now. Alexandra Tomalonis wrote about it extensively in her biography of Henning Kronstam and I've wanted to watch it ever since because I have a weakness for magical creatures and Scottish reels and all that sort of thing.

At its heart it's the story of a man who falls in love with a being that is not quite of this world, and of the tragedy that ensues when he follows her instead of staying home where he belongs. In fairy tales--and La Sylphide, which comes complete with a witch stirring a cauldron and mimed triumphal laughter, feels more like a fairy tale than most such ballets--it's never a good idea to go chasing supernatural beings into the forest.

Herman Cornejo is a dancer I've often felt like I admire more than enjoy. It's utterly unfair of me, but I often find myself distracted from just how good he is by just how small he is.  In this case I wasn't bothered by that, and his dancing was fantastic--as it always is, as far as I can tell--but I didn't believe the character. In her book, Tomalonis quote Kronstam talking about the role of James:
James can be a man who is so infatuated with the Sylph that he abandons everything to follow her. Or he can be a Romantic soul who is looking for the beauty of life and he sees that more in the Sylphide than in a household. Or he can be very impulsive [. . .] James has his doubts, and he has his fears of what he is going to do, but he cannot help himself. Or, if you do it differently, its that he wants to get away. It's not that he is unhappy; it's because he wants to get out. 
What's clear is that there's any number of variations when it comes to the characterization of James. But in all those variations his character is such that the events of the ballet become inevitable. This is who he is and so this is how it ends. The problem is, in Cornejo's interpretation the character of James isn't fully embodied; he's merely a sketch and you never quite know who he is. And that lack of clarity undermines the story as a whole.

Natalia Osipova was more convincing as the sylph. She's a less complex character--a creature really.  And because she's a magical being associated with weightlessness and flight, Osipova's particular talents serve her well. She jumps so high: One second she's on the ground and the next second there she is, hanging in the air, without having seemed to put any effort into getting there. And then she comes down quietly and feather light. It's as though being in the air is the easiest, most natural thing in the world for her. 

So there's a lot to enjoy. In the end though, for all the wonderful dancing--there were also lovely performances from Gemma Bond as James's fiancee, jilted at the altar, and Jared Matthews as Gurn, who loves her (and seems rather more deserving of her love than James--the ballet didn't entirely hold together as theater on Wednesday night. 

The evening had opened with Paul Taylor's Airs which I enjoyed in the sort of abstracted way that I've enjoyed the few other Taylor dances I've seen. His dances have such a sense of fun and play, which I love because being able to depict such things without seeming saccharine is a particular strength of dance as an art form. It also seemed to be a good pairing with La Sylphide in terms of tone. I do prefer the weightier quality his own dancers give his choreography though.

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