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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 May 2005—I was not alone in not liking John Neumeier's off-beat version of Sylvia when it was premiered in Paris in March, 1997. It was hard to follow and the story-line, such at it was, unconvincing. Moreover, expectations were high as Sylvia, in Louis Mérante's version, had enjoyed the privilege of being the first ballet to be performed at the newly constructed Palais Garnier in 1876, and as such, held a special place in the company's history. Set to the poetical and sensual score by Léo Delibes, many had come with a preconceived idea of a traditional, pastoral ballet and were unprepared to see a minimalist decor inhabited by nymphs clad in black leather shorts, and confused to see star dancer, Nicolas Le Riche, interpret several roles. My own memories were of him bouncing around most of the time in red dungarees with a matching baseball cap.

Ballet de l'Opera de Paris: Sylvia
Choreography: John Neumeier

Well, he still wears the same dungarees, perhaps a new pair all the same, but changes have been made, and wonderful pas-de-deux, at which Neumeier excels, have been developed. At the time, the choreographer himself had said he was not happy with the production, considering it to be unfinished, but now it has become a most enjoyable work, danced as it was by a brilliant cast.

It is a work which depends heavily upon the quality of the interpretation and certainly, in April, it was danced by a dream cast. Marie Agnès Gillot exploded onto the stage as the goddess Diana, dominating events, strong, powerful and charismatic.  Aurélie Dupont, partnered by Manuel Legris as Aminta, the shy shepherd who has fallen in love with her, was an expressive Sylvia, and both gave a particularly moving performance, especially in Act 2 with a very lovely pas-de-deux. Their love is, of course, doomed.  If I still found the story somewhat confusing, no matter, the dancing was wonderful and the corps de ballet were in fine form.

Aurélie Dupont and Manuel Legris in Sylvia

The ballroom scene in Act 2 proved most successful, and Nicolas le Riche in the dual role of the god, Amour, who takes first the human form of Thyris, and then becomes Orion in order to seduce Sylvia, .had grown into his part(s). The cast was completed by the handsome Martinez as Endymion, beloved in secret by the proud Diana, and condemned to sleep for eternity.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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