Smaller dance companies that don’t shy away from the big classical ballets usually have to make some compromises in order to get that shows up on the boards, be it a smaller number of swans or a tiny mouse king’s army,
But there are other shows besides The Nutcracker that work well for smaller educational troupes like Boca Ballet Theatre, and in Bournonville’s La Sylphide, it seems to me that it has found an ideal match.
Last weekend at Spanish River High School, the troupe presented two performances of this 1836 work, whose score by the otherwise entirely forgotten Norwegian nobleman Herman Severin Løvenskiold is far better than most others of its era, and whose compactness and easy-to-follow mimed story make it very accessible. Joined by two excellent professional soloists from the New York City Ballet and a third from the Fort Wayne Ballet, this first-ever mounting of this story ballet by the Boca troupe was delightful and charming from beginning to end.
The story of La Sylphide, drawing on the contemporary craze for the novels of Sir Walter Scott, also mines the tropes of European folklore in which forest spirits intercede in and interfere with the lives of the hapless mortals whose environment of bosky groves they inhabit. A forest sylph, in love with a Scotsman named James who is soon to be married to a lovely village girl, is lured away by her through the evil machinations of a conniving witch. Frustrated at not being able to capture her, he uses a scarf prepared by the witch to bind her to him, at which point her wings fall off and she dies, just as a wedding party featuring James’s betrothed, now married to his rival Gurn, walks through.
As La Sylphide, Megan Fairchild was all lightness and grace, with beautiful footwork and expert carriage that she united to an engaging flirtatiousness. She was particularly good at rapidly moving to a different part of the stage and befuddling her would-be amour, and her collapse after being embraced with the fatal scarf had a lovely, shuddering poetry.
Gonzalo Garcia was a first-rate James, with brilliant high jumps in which he didn’t hammer the floor when he came down, and a lift to his movements that was almost as light and nimble as Fairchild’s. They made a fine couple, and perhaps it is a mark of a successful La Sylphide that you wished these two were able to have a long, glorious pas de deux of romantic fulfillment to themselves before her unhappy demise.
Shannon Smith, a frequent Boca Ballet guest, was a fine Gurn, with very athletic jumps and legwork of his own, and student dancer Brida Gibbons was impressive as Effie, stepping with elegance and a retiring modesty that befitted her role as a jilted fiancée.
There was also much lovely dancing from the sylphs in Act II, all of which had the same quality of evanescence and rapidity that director Dan Guin must have insisted the girls possess in order to seem to be of the same tribe as La Sylphide. Company co-founder (and Guin’s wife) Jane Tyree was a very good Madge the witch, devious but not cartoonishly hammy, and she was able to make clear in mime just what she wanted and what she was up to.
Guin’s staging was crystal-clear and no problem at all to follow, and he was unafraid to make sure there was credible town activity while keeping those dancers out of the way of his storytellers. His sets were modest but effective, and costumer Ines Lopez clad them in pretty, memorable guise.
As is the tradition for this relatively short ballet, which lacks the plethora of solos and variations that other major story ballets do, Guin presented first the “Enchanted Garden” scene from Petipa’s Le Corsaire, with a hodgepodge of average-grade music by Adolphe Adam, Léo Delibes and Ludwig Minkus. The soloist was Sasha Lazarus, a Boca Ballet dancer I have always enjoyed seeing since her turn as Marie in The Nutcracker a few years back.
Lazarus has a strong stage presence and good, solid technique, and she handled a difficult series of steps with thorough accomplishment. She was somewhat overshadowed by the four odalisques — Gibbons again, Arantza Rojas, Mia Salvo and Michelle Schmidt — who each performed short character dances of variable but always good quality, and that left the viewer feeling confident about the depth of Guin and Tyree’s talent bench.
That idea was further enhanced by the very good group work of the Pink and Yellow corps de ballet students (in Lopez’s lovely dresses), who added to the night’s feeling of straightforward, honest artistry in the service of classic works of dance.