Roberta on the Arts
American Ballet Theatre: Airs and La Sylphide
Contact Roberta
Jazz and Cabaret Corner
On Location with Roberta
In the Galleries: Artists and Photographers
Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Classical and Cultural Connections
New CDs
Arts and Education
Onstage with the Dancers
Offstage with the Dancers
Upcoming Events
Special Events
Memorable Misadventures
Our Sponsors

American Ballet Theatre: Airs and La Sylphide

- Onstage with the Dancers

The New Yorker Hotel
The New Yorker Hotel is a historical,
first-class, landmark hotel.

481 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
(866) 800-3088

American Ballet Theatre

Airs and La Sylphide

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 18, 2009

(Read More ABT Reviews).

(Read More Paul Taylor Reviews)

Airs (1981): Choreography by Paul Taylor, Staged by Susan McGuire, Music by George Frideric Handel, Design by Gene Moore, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Cast on June 15, 2009:

Conductor: David LaMarche
Performed by Kristi Boone, Misty Copeland, Nicola Curry, Anne Milewski, Blaine Hoven, Arron Scott, and Isaac Stappas.

Cast on June 18, 2009:

Conductor: Charles Barker
Performed by Marian Butler, Devon Teuscher, Mary Mills Thomas, Katherine Williams, Mikhail Ilyin, Patrick Ogle, and Eric Tamm.

After a three-month break since Paul Taylor Dance Company’s City Center Season, it was welcome news that Taylor’s 1978 Airs, set to various musical selections by Handel, would open this week’s program for the two-act La Sylphide. Ballet Theatre cast Corps, with a few Soloists, in the Taylor work, so the audience had the opportunity to see dancers featured, who are usually in supportive ensembles or costumed characters. The audience also got to see Airs danced to a live orchestra, on a large stage, with the dancers in ballet slippers, not bare feet, as a fresh take on this renowned work.

On June 15, the cast was strong, and Kristi Boone and Misty Copeland were especially buoyant and jubilant. Kristi Boone danced the Solo Third Movement, in the expanse of the Met stage, no large Company rear stage, and she swallowed space with clear lines of motion, intense dynamics, and studied confidence. On June 18, Devon Teuscher danced the same solo, with expansiveness and expression. On June 15, Misty Copeland and Isaac Stappas were a duo for the Sixth and Seventh Movements, while Anne Milewski and Arron Scott were the duo in the Fourth. Of these featured dancers, Ms. Copeland and Mr. Scott were especially engaging, while on June 18, Marian Butler and Patrick Ogle were especially musical in shape and rhythm. In fact, I have never seen Ms. Butler so joyful, as she was in this contemporary oeuvre. My one issue was the lighting, much too dark for Taylor. This is a glowing spiritual work, and dimness reduces its radiance. The Orchestra added its own Handel concert, to this ballet, on June 15, under David LaMarche’s baton.

La Sylphide (The Sylph of the Highlands) (1836, Copenhagen, 1971, ABT, NY): Choreography by August Bournonville, Staged by Erik Bruhn, Music by Hermann Von Løvenskjold, Scenery and costumes by Desmond Heeley, Lighting by David K. H. Elliott. In Act I, James, a young Scotsman, is to marry Effie. While James dozes in a chair, on his wedding morn’, a Sylphide appears and kisses him in the air. Then she dances and escapes through the chimney. While James and his Bride-to-Be, Effie, and Gurn, James’ rival for Effie, are all making the wedding arrangements with their friends, Madge, a Witch and fortune-teller arrives to warm by the fire. Madge reads Effie’s palm and warns she won’t marry James, but Gurn, instead. Later the Sylphide appears to James again and persuades him to come later on to the forest. Gurn sees James running in the house chasing air and brings friends as witness. After a jubilant Scottish reel, the Sylphide snatches Effie’s wedding ring from James and dashes into the forest, with James in the chase. Effie is left alone at her celebration, while the men chase the groom.

In Act II, Madge and her demons soak a scarf in magic brew. Then all the Sylphides all come out into a glen and dance and disappear. The Sylphide appears with James nearby, but he can never grasp her. Gurn sees James’ jacket but keeps his presence secret from Effie, on Madge’s advice. Effie and Gurn stop the search. James meanwhile is advised by Madge to wrap the magic gossamer scarf around the Sylphide to capture her. When the Sylphide kneels down, at James’ request, he wraps her arms, but her wings fall off and she dies in the arms of the Sylphides, who carry her off into the sky. As James looks up, Effie and Gurn pass with their wedding party and James collapses. Madge rejoices. (Based on ABT Program Notes)

Cast on June 15, 2009:

Conductor: Charles Barker
Performed by Natalia Osipova as La Sylphide, Herman Cornejo as James, Gemma Bond as Effie, James’ Fiancée, Maria Bystrova as Anna, James’ Mother, Daniil Simkin as Gurn, Supervisor of the Farm, Nancy Raffa as Madge, a Witch, Anne Milewski as Nancy, Effie’s Friend, Daniil Simkin as First Variation, Herman Cornejo as Second Variation, and the Company as Reel, Friends, Wedding Guests, Witches, and Sylphides.

Cast on June 18, 2009:

Conductor: Charles Barker
Performed by Nina Ananiashvili as La Sylphide, David Hallberg as James, Gemma Bond as Effie, James’ Fiancée, Karen Uphoff as Anna, James’ Mother, Carlos Lopez as Gurn, Supervisor of the Farm, Nancy Raffa as Madge, a Witch, Luciana Paris as Nancy, Effie’s Friend, Carlos Lopez as First Variation, David Hallberg as Second Variation, and the Company as Reel, Friends, Wedding Guests, Witches, and Sylphides.

Natalia Osipova, a Guest Artist from the Bolshoi Theatre, where she is a “Leading Soloist”, received many accolades this season, and I was curious to see what all the buzz was about. I split the two evenings to see Nina Ananiashvili in her next-to-last Farewell week, as well as her fellow Russian ballet star, Natalia Osipova, both as La Sylphide. By mid-performance on June 18, clearly Ms. Ananiashvili, with twice Ms. Osipova’s stage experience, was the most riveting and rarified in this lesser known ballet. Bournonville choreographed La Sylphide in 1836, close to two centuries ago, and its tale of missed opportunities, fleeting choices, and demonic manipulation could translate to contemporary culture with ease. The drama of this ballet, as James (Herman Cornejo on June 15 and David Hallberg on June 18) unwittingly causes the Sylphide’s death by wrapping her in a poisoned scarf, on the devilish urging of Madge the Witch (Nancy Raffa on both nights), needs to transcend the music. This is because the score is unmemorable, non-majestic, and filled with Scottish reels and even less interesting melodies. Ms. Ananiashvili and Mr. Hallberg exuded maturity, poignancy, and depth of emotion, and the dramatic elements stood on their own, with urgent and eloquent dance.

The Bournonville attitude and line of the torso is a visual feast, especially when all the Sylphides emerge in the forest glen with calf-length tulle tutus, tiny flowered crowns, and gossamer wings. The forest is dark, as here it should be, but the Sylphides glow in filtered light, dancing on their own and dancing in support of La Sylphide, before and after her demise. Ms. Osipova is youthful, vibrant, and magnetic to the eye. Her jumps and tiny kicks are whispering, as a sylph’s would be. But, compared to Ms. Ananiashvili, radiant from within, a gleam in her eye, tantalizing as she urges James to follow her to the dark forest, Ms. Osipova seemed to be a work in progress (although she has won estimable awards for this singular role). When the Sylphide appears in the window, gazing in at James, Ms. Ananiashvili was the blissful temptress, while Ms. Osipova was the virtuous mirage. Herman Cornejo, as James on June 15, a splendid and charismatic performer, was well suited to Ms. Osipova, who filled in for the injured Xiomara Reyes. He’s theatrical and able to characterize multi-layered personalities, yet David Hallberg on June 18, unexpectedly partnering Ms. Ananiashvili (filling in for Maxim Beloserkovsky), was the truly vulnerable hero, the most persuasive in his conflict and grief. His leaps and Scottish ornamentations added authenticity and an aura of elegance.

As Madge, the Witch, it would have been fun to see Victor Barbee, but Nancy Raffa substituted on June 15 and was already cast on June 18. She was, as always, quintessentially demonic, cooking up logistical and chemical brews. As she tossed the poisoned scarf in the air, she visually cackled with glee. When James collapses before the final curtain, she sucked the air from the stage with her wrathful celebration. As Gurn, who shifts from rival to co-conspirator, Daniil Simkin, on June 15, added many more nuances to his dramatization than did Carlos Lopez on June 18. Mr. Simkin is pure delight in each and every role, a performer with style plus talent, charm plus nobility, and he can only grow into full virtuosity. As Effie on both nights, Gemma Bond was an artist to watch, with poise and presence, and both Maria Bystrova and Karen Uphoff filled the role of Anna with refinement. The Corps was especially fascinating in the Scottish Reel, with long satiny dresses and men in kilts. I did notice one character holding the bagpipes incorrectly, not even to his mouth, as they played.

The one image that remains most rapturously from this historical ballet is that of the Sylphides ensemble, a visual that’s been painted endlessly and draws the audience into the imaginary Scottish glen. The female Corps danced this Act II segment extraordinarily. Charles Barker conducted Ballet Theatre Orchestra on both nights.

Natalia Osipova in "La Sylphide"
Courtesy of Marc Hageman

Nina Ananiashvili in "La Sylphide"
Courtesy of Marc Hageman

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at