Dark victory

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  October 31, 2007

La Sylphide is easier to follow but not less complicated. We’re in the Scottish Highlands, and James seems set to marry Effie, despite the efforts of her other suitor, Gurn. But as the curtain rises, the Sylphide — a winged woodland sprite — appears and makes her love known to James. World or otherworld? Prose or poetry? And there’s a third woman in the picture: old hag/witch Madge. (Like Serenade, La Sylphide is a story of two men and three women.) Madge slips into James’s castle to get warm; he fears she’s a bad omen and orders her out; she vows revenge. It’s Madge’s poisoned shawl (act two, echoing the plot and the psychology of Macbeth, opens with a cauldron scene) that James wraps around the Sylphide and that causes her death. But is it Madge’s fault that James wants the Sylphide and sex? Or is Madge the Loathly Damsel of British folklore who’d have turned into the Princess if he’d wanted her? Effie weds Gurn, James swoons as the body of the Sylphide is born aloft, and Madge mocks him. You wonder whether his story, like Waltz Girl’s, is just beginning.

The highlight of the four performances I saw last weekend was Melanie Atkins. Her Russian Girl breathes Balanchine, her inscrutable smile suggesting she’s in communication with Mr. B, her long limbs flying, her pelvis centering, her body dangerously tilted. On her two entrances in the Elegy, she gave the audience an unnerving half-look, as if bearing news from Delphi. To Madge, she brought not only a convincing arthritic limp but the kaleidoscopery of her Balanchine — right down to the “Ahh . . . 15-year-old Laphroaig” expression after downing that first Scotch. This Madge might want James for herself: she keeps thrusting beauty in his way and he doesn’t see it. Atkins capped off her weekend Saturday afternoon with a delectable turn as the solo sylph.

LA SYLPHIDE: Rykine and Cornejo at the
moment of truth.
Close behind was the Effie of newly promoted first soloist Melissa Hough, who threw herself into the Highland Reel and in her solo showed a command of the floaty, kicky Bournonville style that I didn’t expect from the high-flying Hippolyta of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the master of Jorma Elo’s Cubist displacements. Larissa Ponomarenko never surprises. Standing in for Lorna Feijóo (injured ankle) as Waltz Girl on opening night, she combined willowy geometry with discreet sexuality (and threw in that luxurious flowing blond hair); at the end, when she embraced her comforter, she sent a shudder through the audience.

Romi Beppu danced Waltz Girl Friday with a big smile and perhaps more speed through her piqué figure eight during the Waltz, but she wasn’t as detailed as Ponomarenko and didn’t cover as much ground. Feijóo, who appeared on Sunday, didn’t look 100 percent; there were fluffs, and her phrasing was abrupt. As Waltz Boy, Carlos Molina (with Ponomarenko Thursday and Feijóo Sunday) and Nelson Madrigal (with Beppu Friday) were elegant, though a sense of mystery and mastery was lacking. Roman Rykine (with Ponomarenko Saturday) looked oddly distracted. Kathleen Breen Combes’s Russian Girl was more languid, and not so free in her body, Aphrodite to Atkins’s Artemis; Misa Kuranaga did everything beautifully, but she didn’t fly very high or very far, and there was something impassive about her. Pavel Gurevich as Elegy Man was Olympian; Sabi Varga was an implacable Hades, James Whiteside a more human Hercules. Lia Cirio was the stronger Dark Angel, Gibraltar-steady when Gurevich turned her as she balanced on pointe; Rie Ichikawa was more delicate. The corps was much admired in Spain, and rightly so. Boston Ballet has a history of doing Serenade well and Concerto Barocco not so well; it will be interesting to see how Concerto Barocco fares in May.

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