La Sylphide: broadcast live from the Bolshoi to the Phoenix Picturehouse Oxford, 30 September 2012

This was a lively and highly enjoyable performance, well acted, and danced with charm and some humour by a technically dazzling company. As the Sylph, Ekaterina Krysanova’s bourrées rippled across the stage and her ballon, light landings and soft pliés made her seem a truly aerial creature. Vyacheslav Lopatin (James) gave a convincing performance as a man obsessed with seeking the unobtainable, and there were strong performances from Denis Savin (Gurn), Anna Rebetskaya (Effie) and Irina Zibrova (Madge).

I was less happy with aspects of the production as a whole, delightful though it was to watch. Firstly I thought that the decision (apparently Johan Kobborg’s) to portray Madge as a younger woman was a mistake. It made her seem insufficiently horrible and threatening to provoke James’ furious reaction in the first act and it then seemed slightly strange to me that in the scene around the caldron, all the other witches were, as usual, old hags. Nor was I convinced by the attempt to give psychological depth to the story by giving Madge a sylph’s petticoat beneath her skirt, because it did not form part of the dramatic line. Neither of these choices worked in this staging.

My other reservation was that although the ballet was brilliantly danced, there was too little feeling for the romantic era. I know that dancers’ bodies and training have changed since the 1830s, but there were times when I thought that extensions were too high, and backs held too vertically for the style of the choreography. I should be very interested to know what others think about this: it would be wrong to preserve nineteenth century ballets as mere pastiches, but to what extent should, or can, a ballet be danced in its original style? The Bolshoi’s version looks very different to that of the Royal Ballet, although both are staged by Kobborg.

In one respect though, the performance was certainly true to the original conception of the ballet as a vehicle for Marie Taglioni. In spite of the addition by Bournonville of more dancing for the men, James in particular, which remains part of the tradition to this day, my lasting impression was of the ethereal quality of the dancing of the Sylph, Ekaterina Krysanova.

Maggie Watson

1 October 2012