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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sylphs Soar At Bolshoi

"La Sylphide" premiered Sunday evening at the Bolshoi Theater, and the result was a fine rendering of August Bournonville's 1836 masterpiece.


A mystical voyage into the romantic mind, "La Sylphide," produced at the Bolshoi by Mariinsky Theater Artistic Director Oleg Vinogradov, explores the conflict between unattainable ideals of love and flesh-and-blood embraces.


As James, a Scottish bridegroom mesmerized by a sylph, Bolshoi principal Sergei Filin gave a convincing portrait with both his acting and his buoyant footwork. Nadezhda Gracheva gave a concentrated performance in the title role, although her passion and athleticism sometimes overpowered the filigree lightness demanded of the ill-fated sylph, who dies after James tries to capture his winged dream by wrapping a scarf about her shoulders.


For even such technically gifted rising stars as Filin and Gracheva, the choreography of this classic was daunting. Vinogradov calls "La Sylphide" "medicine for dancers. The light footwork, the countless quick leaps provide our Russian dancers with exactly the precise technique and subtlety of intonation we sometimes lack, despite the expressive arms, high leaps and grand passions of our dancers."


The ballet, which exists in several versions, was brought to Copenhagen in 1836 by Danish choreographer August Bournonville, where it became both the foundation for the Danish school of dance and a forerunner of the great romantic ballets, inhabited by otherworldly creatures. The Vinogradov production was brought to St. Petersburg by Danish dancer Elsie von Rosen in 1973.


In the Second Act Gracheva displayed more fluency in the Bournonville style, full of ricocheting small jumps, turns that end in sudden stops and lingering poses after lightning-quick passages. The precision footwork and delicacy of intonation of the role should aid in her development as a dancer, though Gracheva, brilliant as Nikia in "La Bayad?re," or as "Raymonda," may never have the subtlety and grace of an ideal Sylphide.


Filin, coming into his own as a major dancer, was an ideal James. His sturdy, muscular figure and chiselled features were the image of a young highlander. His footwork, precise and quick, gave decisiveness and masculinity to his character. If he were to be faulted, it would be perhaps for letting his emotions carry him away in the Second Act, to the point that his leaps became more grand than Bournonville-precise.


Supporting roles were all wonderfully interpreted and danced. The under-used Erika Luzhina was warm and touching as Effie, the bride whom James abandons. All the vitality of earthly love showed in Luzhina's step. Alexei Melanin was an insistent lover as Gurn, deliberately setting himself as a heavy-footed rival to the sprightly Filin for Effie's affections. The down-to-earth rival, of course, ends up winning the abandoned bride's affections.


As the witch Madge, who conjures up the scarf that kills the sylph, Svetlana Smirnova was able to attain an elegance and subtlety rare in a role usually danced by a man.


The corps de ballet flew most of the way through the reel at the end of the First Act in perfect spirited synchronicity.


The final star in "La Sylphide" was the stage machinery. The Sylphide vanishes up a glowing fireplace after first appearing to James. She flies with the help of trapezes which transport her at a height of 10 meters above the stage. She hovers, then glides -- down from the window, then up and down a tree -- and these mechanisms of Victorian ingenuity lend a great deal more charm than any high-tech special effect ever could.