Opera de Nice – 17 April2015


Ballet Nice Mediterranée director, Eric Vu An, writes in his programme introduction that the company’s new performance of ballets by Jerome Robbins and August Bournonville is an exceptionally ambitious one. Ambitious and challenging as these ballets are demanding both technically and artistically for dancers unused to these unique and strongly contrasting styles. Happily, the company has succeeded in producing a performance to be admired and enjoyed. The Double Bill opened with Jerome Robbin’s rarely performed En Sol or In G Major, to Ravel’s Piano Concerto, created for New York City Ballet in 1975. Against a painted backdrop of sun and waves and costumed in colourful striped tights and skirts, all designed by Erte, the choreography is quirky and fresh. Ravel’s music often sounds more like Gershwin’s (it was written following the composer’s visit to the United States) and Robbins mixes classical and jazz movements freely. The very long and Balanchine-like central slow movement, a pas de deux in pristine white, and created for Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, was danced with admirable control by Céline Marcinno and Claude Gamba. Coached by Paris Opéra Ballet ballet mistress Clothilde Vyer, the company danced with precision and enjoyment, but the ballet needs the very special NYCB qualities of elegance and athleticism.

In mounting La Sylphide BNM have collaborated with the Danish choreographer and company director Dinna Bjorn. Daughter of the famous Danish dancer Niels Bjorn Larsen, Dinna Bjorn has become internationally renowned for her reconstructions of the ballets of the Danish choreographer, August Bournonville. From the moment the curtain goes up on the very traditional stage set for Act 1, one is aware of the meticulous work which has gone into re-mounting this version of the ballet, created in Copenhagen in 1836. In her first solo, Gaëla Pujol, a delicate blonde sylphide, displayed beautiful footwork, a light, airy jump and a playful, romantic manner. My only quibble would be that here she allowed herself the very French habit of playing out to the audience instead of allowing the action to take place to and around James, asleep in an armchair. However, once she had roused him the choreography became part of the narrative with the sylphide attracting and teasing the young man on the eve of his marriage. His fiancée, Effie, soon enters, excited at the prospect of her marriage and Marie-Astrid Casinelli’s charming solo is full of beautiful light jumps. With the entrance of the company, the setting of the ballet in Scotland is brought to life with a series of lively reels and ensemble dances. These were executed with great precision, the dancers appearing to revel in the fast footwork, involving Scottish dancing as well as the traditional Bournonville technique, all of which must have been new and challenging to them.

Both Pujol and Casinelli are principal dancers, while James, danced by Théodore Nelson, has been plucked from the corps de ballet. However, his good looks and physique, together with a shock of red hair make him a perfect romantic Scotsman. He also has an impressive jump and tossed off all the fast allegro and batterie, typical of the Danish school, with aplomb. The role of Madge, the Witch who is set on ruining everyone’s happiness, is often performed by a man, and Neils Bjorn Larsen was famous for his interpretation of the role. Eric Vu An, dressed in a bulky, ragged dress and with long grey hair, was suitably evil, scuttling around the stage like a large crab. At the opening of Act 2, where he is found stirring a boiling cauldron of poisonous liquids, I felt he could have been bolder with his movements, even more grotesque, but his maturity and experience bring an essential weight and drama to the unfolding story.

In Act 2, the Sylphide lures James into her domain of the woods and, enchanted by her, he wishes to keep her. Pujol’s first solo in this act is full of high, light jumps and one can imagine that the original sylphide of the Danish version, Lucille Grahn, looked very similar. However, the witch gives James a poisoned scarf to wrap around her so he may entrap her and keep her, but this evil trick makes her wings fall off before she collapses and tragically dies. Pujol’s final scene was unexpectedly dramatic, as was the entrance of the villagers, with Effie’s marriage procession to another suitor, Gurn, while James falls helpless to the ground. The corps de ballet of sylphides in Act 2 danced well and most precisely but more mystery and romanticism is needed in place of broad smiles. However, the company has never looked better and La Sylphide will, doubtlessly, be a valuable addition to the company’s repertoire, bringing them much success, and deserves to be seen more widely.

Dancing Times