By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 18 AUGUST 2013 Each time one sees this enchanting
ballet whether in the version of August Bournonville, with memories of the
youthful Rudolf Nureyev as the passionate, besotted James, stopping all
hearts with his zest for life and his high, bounding jumps in the shortest
of blue kilts, or in Pierre Lacottes version for the Paris Opera Ballet,
in which Elisabeth Platel, fragile, ethereal, has forever left her mark,
it is pure magic.
It is a ballet where the choreography has been rescued, as it were,
from that of Filippo Taglioni who wrote it for his daughter, Marie, in
1832. Her legendary lightness and grace launched a whole new style of
dance, from the image of the romantic ballerina floating magically across
the stage in a cloud of white tulle giving place to the birth of the first
white act in the history of dance, the forerunner of such classics as
Giselle, Swan Lake, La Bayadère, and
Les Sylphides. Set in the forests and mists of the Scottish
highlands, the ballet tells the story of James who dreams of an
inaccessible ideal and who is lured away by the Sylphide on the eve of his
marriage to Effie, a young country girl.
Photo: A. Deniau
But despite its phenomenal success at the time, nothing was heard of
the ballet after a last performance in Saint Petersburg in 1892. It was
only restaged in 1971 after Pierre Lacotte, who had danced Bournonvilles
version (music Lovenskjold) in his younger days, determined to recover the
original work. After many years of meticulous research, he found letters
from Taglioni to his artists and documents detailing the steps, which he
pieced together with the help of Carlotta Zambelli and Lubov
In the July restaging of the work by the Paris Opera Ballet, the little
sylph, the unearthly figure of James imagination, was interpreted
divinely by Ludmila Pagliero, fey, fragile, an insubstantial supernatural
figure. She was elusive, almost eerie in her strange attachment to James.
Perfectly lyrical, her quick, light, precise movements were ideally suited
to the choreography and her sad goodbye to James ending with her ascension
into the skies was not only spectacular, but very moving.
Photo: A. Deniau
However, one had little belief in the love story with James, for in a
change of cast, the hero of the ballet was interpreted by premier
danseur, Vincent Chaillet, who does not possess the exciting bravura
technique demanded by this role. Chaillet, although he danced commendably,
is more at ease in contemporary works and was not the warm-blooded,
romantic lover one associates with the part.
Nevertheless, with the sublime presence of Pagliero and the spectacular
magical effects of the sylphides flying through the air, obtained by an
ingenious system of cables and pulleys, as well as the delicate beating of
their wings, the evening was pure delight. Moreover, the images of the
sylphides perched in the trees as part of the ravishingly pretty décor by
Marie-Claire Musson, after the designs of Pierre Ciceri, remained in ones
memory long after leaving the theatre. Lacottes Sylphide is one
of the jewels of the companys repertoire.
*Egorova had worked with Christian
Johansson, one of Marie Taglionis last partners.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing
Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on
Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for