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Setting the Ballet: La Sylphide

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin directing rehearsal for La Sylphide

Choreographed 1836 by August Bournonville, La Sylphide has been a staple of the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet for 170 years, and is generally considered to be the most important ballet created during the Romantic period. Though I have been looking forward to staging and coaching this ballet since Stephen announced this season’s programming last winter, I also found myself with some trepidation as he and I prepared to teach the dancers in early January.

When I work in the rehearsal studio with choreographers as they are creating new work, one of my primary responsibilities is to listen and observe, taking both written and mental note of the process and the product. Particularly crucial is that I have a clear understanding of the choreographer’s intentions so that I can help the dancers fully realize the choreographer’s expectations. Trying to apply that same process and sense of accountability to choreography that is nearly two centuries old is intriguing but also very daunting, and requires a lot of advance preparation and research.

Dancers rehearsing the sylph scene

Romantic ballets, in general, have unique aspects of shape and movement, but Bournonville’s work has a very specific aesthetic and theatricality. In setting La Sylphide, and working to fully capture the essence of this ballet, Stephen and I relied on our past experiences as dancers in Bournonville’s work, as well as notes and video recordings. We also had extensive conversations between ourselves and with the dancers about how to best interpret the narrative and tell this wonderful story.

Michelle Martin and dancers rehearsing the fortune-teller scene

Beyond my usual directorial responsibilities, La Sylphide has also given me the rare opportunity to participate onstage in the role of Madge, the Witch. As a dancer I was usually cast in the ingénue roles, so I’m enjoying the chance to portray a darker character. Bournonville’s emphasis on the development of the characters and their interaction makes this role particularly interesting for me and more complex than I’d originally anticipated.

While the responsibility inherent in staging a ballet like La Sylphide definitely offers some challenges, for both the dancers and our artistic team, the simple elegance of the storytelling and brilliant craftsmanship of the choreography have also made it incredibly fulfilling. All of us are looking forward to transitioning from studio rehearsals into the theater this week, anticipating the added energy and theatrical “edge” as we work with the Austin Symphony and the breathtaking scenery and costumes from the Boston Ballet. This marks the first time that Ballet Austin has presented La Sylphide and I’m certain it won’t be the last…

For Tickets and more information about La Sylphide, click here.

 
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