Spectacular revival of an unjustly forgotten ballet
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 01/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1952, Frederick Ashton choreographed his own version of "Sylvia," a ballet originally created and choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1876. The ballet was a vehicle for Margot Fonteyn, then at the height of her career. But for one reason or another, Sylvia never gained any traction as part of the Royal Ballet repertoire. Perhaps it was the fiendishly difficult title role -- Sylvia is onstage and dancing at almost all times, and Ashton filled the choreography with intricate footwork and jump sequences. Perhaps it was the relatively weak storyline. Sylvia is a huntress for the goddess Diana, and she falls in love with a shepherd named Aminta. God Orion gets jealous and kills Aminta, but love (in the form of the god Eros) saves the day. Diana relinquishes Sylvia and all ends happily. There's not much emotional depth, although Ashton infused the ballet with his personal quirks, like dancing goats.
After its premiere in 1952, Ashton tinkered with the ballet and at one point made it a one-act ballet, but it wasn't until 2004 that the Royal Ballet decided to revive Ashton's 1952 production. This video is a souvenir of the revival. Delibes' score is the main reason why I return to Sylvia -- it is absolutely beautiful. You might have heard the pizzacato polka before, or the ravishing grand pas de deux, but the score has no weak spots.
The dancing is uniformly strong. Thiago Soares is the mustache-twirling Orion. Darcey Bussell in the title role is nothing short of spectacular. The role emphasizes all her strengths (her athleticism, beauty, and natural charm) and none of her weaknesses (a lack of real emotional depth). She looks every bit the mythical huntress, but more impressively, she is able to execute both the tricky allegro footwork and the showy athleticism of Ashton's choreography. Her partner is the hunky Roberto Bolle, one of the few dancers tall enough to partner the 5'8" Bussell. They make a beautiful couple. In the grand pas de deux, Bussell performs awe-inspiring backward-leaping fish-dives.
Lavish, Splendidly Danced and Very Pretty
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 02/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Ashton's Sylvia as a Second-Empire entertainement, magnificently danced and sumptuously staged. Darcey Bussell and Roberto Bolle are flawless in roles that are quite difficult yet ironically not showy. They make excellent partners. Soloists and Corps dance in exhuberant good form. The Covent Garden Orchestra sounds primed for Delibes marvelous score, one of the very, very few musical masterpieces to be found among ballet scores. Ashton's choreography is very pretty even if never quite reaching heights of beauty or originality he showed elsewhere, e.g., Symphonic Variations or The Dream, not to mention his re-castings of Petipa. Though I never saw Fonteyn in the part (but did see her in quite a few others), at some points in the choreography, without detracting from the marvelous Darcey Bussell, my mind's eyes would unwittingly summon the image of Fonteyn executing the movements, peculiarly as watching two dancers, one inside the other, dancing the same part. Fonteyn conveyed a sense of wonder about her own dancing while she danced that was unique and most communicative; Ashton knew how best to display it, and we would all be taken in and be made part of it. Hence his choreography for her will always retain an element of reminiscence, however magnificently it may be currently danced, as Bussell does in this performance. This is of no consequence to those who never saw Fonteyn. Those who did can rejoice at this performance for not only will it bring much pleasure on its own merits, but it will as well unmistakably recall, in seeing Sylvia's dances, the great, unique Margot. No sadness here nor nostalgia, just the memory of the beloved, expressive artist on whom the role was created.
One note about the DVD: Darcy Bussell's introductory and concluding short comments do not come on automatically but need to be accessed from the Chapters menu. Otherwise there are no extra features.
For a very different, quite engaging and dramatic use of the same score with vague references to the Sylvia legend, I recommend the version John Neumeier did for the Paris Opera Ballet, also on DVDDelibes - Sylvia / Aurelie Dupont, Manuel Legris, Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnes Gillot, Jose Martinez, Paris Opera Ballet. There is poignancy and modern meditation there about vanished opportunities and choices that cannot be undone; the pizzicato is almost tragic..... All very different from Ashton's pretty entertainement, in dance terms quite thrilling even if the vocabulary is more eclectic. Both Sylvias belong in a balletomane's DVD library."
In a word.......gorgeous !
Todd Nolan | Seattle, WA USA | 02/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ivy Lin's review last month is spot-on. This ballet's music is some of the best there is, comparable with Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda & Midsummer Night's Dream. I was familiar with the beautiful score from a Naxos disc that coupled the ballet with a suite from Saint-Saen's opera Henry VIII. I played it often over the last few years, wondering if I'd ever see a performance, live or video. Last year I saw the Aurelie Dupont DVD was available, but I dislike modern, austere settings/costumes for both ballet & opera, and from more than a few reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, I concluded I should wait for another treatment. I'm glad I did. Ashton's production is beautiful to look at, Darcey Bussell is a charismatic dancer, costumes & backdrop/setting are romantic (as is fitting for the subject, not to mention Delibe's original intentions!) and the music can easily stand alone as a concert piece for any symphony program, which you couldn't claim for some ballet music. I only wish it was longer. This DVD also has a brief, but interesting introduction narrated by Bussell herself. This is a little gem, showing the dancers and backstage crew just before the curtain rises. Some dancers chat together while limbering up, double-checking costumes, while others grab a quick moment by themselves, a bit of solace before the summation of all that practice, rehearsal time, muscle memory, nerves & adrenaline take over before the appreciative audience. Also, the accompanying booklet is thorough and interesting with several nice photos of the production. If you haven't seen this ballet, I urge you to try it. You're in for something special."
The best Sylvia you will find.
N. Alonso Hathaway | Boston, Ma. | 05/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sylvia is a ballet rarely performed these days. This Royal Ballet version has superb dancers, the lovely Darcey Bussell, a fine score and good classical choreography. The ballet has a mythological story line that is as daffy and arbitrary as many fairy tales (statues coming to life, for example}, and it must be noted that there is little in the way of emotional and psychological depth. However the dancing is lovely."