Airs/La Sylphide

American Ballet Theatre

June 20, 2009;  2 p.m.

This is a program of two very different genres.  The first is traditional, no sets or costumes, just a bare stage and leotards.  Choreography for this production was by renowned modern choreographer Paul Taylor, and it was the first of Taylor’s works to be produced by ABT.  The music by George Frideric Handel is lovely and the orchestra is so good the concert is worth attending for that alone.  I especially liked the cellos and timpani so we were off to a good start during the ballet suite, before a single dancer entered onto the stage.  The Paul Taylor company’s own productions have, at times, seemed a bit crisper, the dancers a bit more dramatic and snappy.  Not to detract from this one, however.  Ballet aficionados have their own favorites.  If you are, in fact, one of those, you will see this and decide for yourself.  If, however, you are a neophyte who wants to see ballet, almost any of American Ballet Theatre’s productions will be well worth your while. 

La Sylphide is a very different production.  It is a narrative ballet with story, costumes and sets.  I like the former style where all the dancers’ body movements can be seen, but also like narrative ballet with costumes.  The downside is that costumes can conceal some of the dancers’ agility.

In last Saturday’s matinee performance, the principal roles of James and La Sylphide were danced by David Hallberg and Hee Seo.  Listed performers were Herman Cornejo and Xiamara Reyes but, due to injuries including a hopefully minor one to Ms. Reyes’s ankle, they did not dance at this performance.

Ms. Seo as the sylph was born on her toes.  She was graceful and delivered all one could hope for.  She is also from the corps, the lowest of the three rankings of dancers, but won’t be for long.  She is destined to join the ranks of featured dancers and soloists as her career progresses.  Mr. Hallberg–no surprise here–made the most of his role as well, and palpably conveyed his longing for the sylph. 

Tragic endings are the norm in ballet and opera, and when this one resolves one can feel the tug at one’s heartstrings.  Had the dancing been less passionate, or the excellent supporting cast less good, the pathos would not have worked as well.  Victor Barbee’s Madge is as funny as she is vengeful and as her black magic runs its course we are in turns amused and fearful of its result.  As I said before, if you like ballet, unless you look for nits to pick, you will almost always enjoy ABT’s productions.  In this fine pair of works there are no nits to pick.