Colorado Ballet

La Sylphide

La Sylphide

Choreographer: August Bournonville
Staged by Z. Dubrovskaya, S. Kozadeyev (1996)
Staged by Karina Elver (2015)
Composer: Herman Severin Løvenskiold
Years performed: 1996
2015
Artists of Colorado Ballet - by Mike Watson
Artists of Colorado Ballet - by Mike Watson

Total run time: 1 hour and 32 minutes (includes one 20 minute intermission)

Synopsis

Act I 
It is James’ wedding day.  The young Scotsman is sleeping in his chair and an enchanting creature—a sylph—is kneeling at his feet and gazing at him lovingly.  She dances around him and finally kisses him.  James wakes up and instantly sees the wood nymph he has just been dreaming of standing right before his very eyes.  He tries to catch her, but she eludes him and vanishes into the fireplace.  Perplexed, he sinks back into his chair.

Effy, James’ fiancée, enters the festively decorated room with his mother, the rich widow Anna.  Effy kisses James, who embraces her with unexpected intensity, believing her to be the sylph.  Full of sadness, Effy declares that he was not thinking of her, but James consoles her by avowing his love for her.

Effy’s girlfriends arrive carrying wedding decorations and gifts, and Effy dances merrily among them.  Just as James is handing her the family tartan, he notices the witch Madge, who has entered quietly and is sitting by the fireplace.  He vehemently insists that her presence is a bad omen and tries to throw her out, but Effy and her friends intercede on her behalf and James reluctantly agrees to let her stay.  Madge tells the girls’ fortunes and when it is Effy’s turn, she predicts that she will not marry James but his rival, Gurn, instead.  In a fury, James throws the fortune teller out, but before she leaves, she swears revenge and curses him.

While Effy is being adorned for the wedding, James sits alone thinking about the sylph.  Was her presence a dream or a reality?  He puts the thought out of his mind.  After all, he loves Effy and is about to marry her.  Suddenly, the sylph reappears.  She declares her great love for him and her despair that he is going to marry Effy.

She dances for him and James, fascinated, is on the point of yielding to her entreaties and following her into the forest when Gurn enters and discovers them both.  He calls for Effy and Anna, but by the time they arrive, the sylph has disappeared and nobody believes Gurn when he claims to have seen “a winged creature” with James.

The wedding guests arrive and for a while in the ensuing celebrations, James forgets about his vision.

Act II
In the dark depths of the forest, Madge, together with her cronies, is preparing a poisonous scarf with which to avenge herself on James.

Day dawns, and the sylph leads James into her forest kingdom.  He tries to embrace her, but she escapes his grasp and warns him never to touch her.  James swears eternal love, and the sylph joyfully brings him berries and spring water.  She summons her sisters, and he dances in the forest with them.

Gurn, who is still searching in the forest, suddenly discovers James’ hat on a tree-trunk, but Madge stops him on his way home and makes him promise not to reveal what he has seen.  In return, she helps him to persuade the distressed and exhausted Effy to marry him.

Meanwhile, James is tormented by unfulfilled passion for his beloved sylph, and on encountering Madge, begs her to help him.  She consents to do so on condition that he follow her instructions without question.  He agrees, and Madge gives him the poisoned scarf and shows him how to fling it around the sylph.  She promises him that if he doses as she says, the sylph will be his forever.

James hears the sylph approaching and hides away.  She looks for him and plays merrily with the birds.  Eventually, James steps forward and shows her the scarf by throwing it up into the air.  Delighted, she begs him to give it to her, but he refuses.  Finally, he orders her to kneel in front of him, as the witch instructed.  When she trustingly does so, he ties the scarf around her wings and arms.  Unaware that she is struggling to escape out of mortal fear, he embraces her and kisses her passionately.  Trembling with pain, the sylph sheds her wings and sinks feebly to the ground, and only then does James realize what he has done by ignoring the sylph’s warning.  Before she dies, the sylph once again vows her eternal love, and with a blessing, gives him back the wedding ring.  The mourning sylphs float heavenwards with their lifeless sister, and James is left alone with his grief.

He hears the sound of joyful music and sees a wedding procession approaching.  Effy and Gurn are about to be married.  The gleeful Madge stops when she notices James and triumphantly reveals that she is avenged.  Overcome with horror, James collapses and dies, and Madge’s exultant laughter echoes through the forest.

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