As many of you know, our spring ballet is just several short weeks away: April 27-28th at the Lincoln Center. Because Canyon Concert Ballet is privileged to perform the early 20th century Michel Fokine masterpiece, Les Sylphides, I thought it might be nice to share with you a bit about this ballet’s interesting history.
Les Sylphides was actually an edited and renamed work that Fokine brought over from Russia and re-staged as part of the famed Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes’ first Parisian season in 1909. Diaghilev and Fokine decided to rename the ballet from Chopiniana to Les Sylphides as a marketing effort to recall for the Parisians the legendary Marie Taglioni, the renowned sylph (from Filippo Taglioni’s La Sylphide, 1832) who had captivated French audiences.
Indeed, renaming it proved to be a brilliant decision for it is the only ballet of its kind: a one-act overture to the by-gone Romantic ballet blanc. Renaming it firmly ties it to this mid-1800s Golden era of ballet.
Though not a narrative work, Les Sylphides demonstrates all the qualities of the Romantic era, evoking imagination, other-worldliness, and unrequited desire. The original set depicts the ruins of a Gothic castle in a misty, forested land. (Romantic artists were fascinated by all things Gothic and grotesque!) As the curtain opens, we see “the Poet” surrounded by the Sylphs. Accompanied by Fokine’s eight selections of Romanic era giant, Frederic Chopin’s orchestrated pieces, the Sylphs dance in a flutter of white tulle as the Poet grasps longingly but futility after them. While watching Les Sylphides, one can almost hear John Keat’s stanzas, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”
Choreographically, Fokine’s movement is extremely difficult for its lightness and precision. The corps de ballet are woven in and out of exquisite patterns with bourreés (little steps on pointe) and airy jumps, while the lead dancers fly through the air with effortlessness. Dainty and unique gestures give the ballet its signature Fokine look.
Our Canyon Concert Ballet dancers are doing a wonderful job at capturing Les Sylphides’ ethereal wonder for you. Don’t forget to get your tickets soon!