Three Choreographic Poems on a Mystic Theme

Dedicated to "La Danse Française" and its long tradition,
and to Lycette Darsonval who was a great Sylvia.

 

Music
  Leo Delibes
Choreography
Staging
  John Neumeier
Set
Costumes
  Yannis Kokkos

1 intermission - 2 hours 15 min.

 

World Premiere
Le Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris
Paris, June 30, 1997

 

Original Cast    
Sylvia
  Monique Loudières
Diana
  Elisabeth Platel
Aminta
  Manuel Legris
Eros/Thyrsis/Orion
  Nicolas Le Riche
Endymion
  José Martinez

 

Premiere in Hamburg
The Hamburg Ballet, December 7, 1997

 

Original Hamburg Cast    
Sylvia
  Heather Jurgensen
Diana
  Anna Polikarpova
Aminta
  Ivan Urban
Eros/Thyrsis/Orion
  Otto Bubenícek
Endymion
  Jirí Bubenícek

 

More rarely performed than Coppélia, Leo Delibes' other great ballet, Sylvia or La Nymphe de Diane has nevertheless played an important role in the history of dance. First performed in 1876 at the Paris Opera Louis Merante's choreography, Sylvia was the first ballet to be created at the Palais Garnier. It broke with Romantic ballet and the ethereal image of the fairy or sylphide which gave way to the maiden warrior, a distant sister of Penthesilea.

But the true rupture with the past only came about at the beginning of the XXth century with a project which saw the light of day in St-Petersburg. Invited in 1900 by the Maryinsky Theatre to supervise a revival of Sylvia, which had first come to Russia in 1891, Diaghilev suggested entrusting the production to his "dream team", the painters Bakst and Benois. Tensions flared between Diaghilev and the management and he was dismissed. It was to be a turning point. From then on, Diaghilev never ceased searching for other opportunities and places to realize his theatrical ambitions. Would he ever have gone abroad had it not been for this quarrel? Would he ever have created the "Ballets Russes" in Paris in 1909 without this disappointment? For this reason Sylvia turned out, indirectly, to be the key which opened the door to modernity.

However Sylvia interest lies less in its historical and cultural aspects and original choreography than in its music.
The score betrays Wagner's influence and, even though it does not shrink the worst clichés of nineteenth-century ballet, it is still full of poetry and sensuality.

Do we have to tell a story? And in this case which one? Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama Aminta which is the source of the story? One thing is for sure, the rather "twee" version by Jules Barbier and the Baron de Reinach is today outmoded. Why not do things more simply? Danced sequences depicting an Amazon at that fragile moment between adolescence and womanhood. Torn between strength and vulnerability, she has difficulty in finding a balance between aggressiveness and tenderness, between denial and self abandon, and only succeeds in discovering true love with the awakening of her own sensuality.

On rereading Tasso, I realized that the myth was worthier of interest than the anecdote. It is therefore normal to keep a certain distance from the music and rid the work of its "operetta" elements which have seduced certain choreographers. In any case, scenes, movements and emotional situations all maintain a sometimes surprising dialogue with the music.

Although not wanting to recreate the Ancient world, I was delighted to collaborate with the great Greek painter, Yannis Kokkos, whose blue tree standing before a green wall is reminiscent of Eluard's "La mer orange" and "L'orange verte". In this inversion of colors lies all the poetry of Kokkos, all the poetry of Sylvia.

John Neumeier

 

Synopsis

Part I

Diana's Sacred Wood

The god of Love descends into the wood and takes on the appearance of Thyrsis a mere shepherd.

Aminta, a real shepherd, enters the sacred wood secretly hoping to find Sylvia, Diana's nymph.

Diana and the nymph-huntresses appear in the wood to take a rest from hunting and to bathe. Sylvia and Aminta meet. Diana and the huntresses discover the tender exchanges between the shepherd and the nymph.

Taken by surprise, Sylvia betrays Aminta.

Left alone, Diana remembers handsome Endymion, doomed to eternal sleep.

At daybreak, the shepherds, their curiosity fired, enter the sacred wood and find Endymion asleep. Love/Thyrsis is with them.

Aminta's heart is broken. He is obsessed by the vision of Sylvia.

Love feels sorry for Aminta. But he takes on the form of handsome Orion in order to seduce Sylvia. She lets herself be led on by him.

 
Part II

First Scene: Love/Orion's Party

Sylvia becomes aware of her femininity. She discovers pleasure.

Her sensuality aflame, Sylvia is overwhelmed by the memory of Diana and Aminta.

 
Second Scene: Winter

Many years later, Aminta returns to the sacred wood. Sylvia too returns to the sacred wood. They meet. Their love seems to live again for an instant.

Diana observes them. She is tempted to separate them but Love disarms her.

In the end it is life itself that steals Sylvia away from Aminta.

As for Diana, she remains alone, the eternal huntress.

 

Review

John Neumeier's "Sylvia" was choreographed for the Ballet of the Paris Opera in June 1997 and was premiered in Hamburg in December 1997. The music for "Sylvia" was composed by Léo Delibes and is one of the world's most famous ballet scores. John Neumeier was the first choreographer to create a modern version of this traditional French ballet for the Paris Opera. "The characters are pure and eternal, and use a rich and bright language. The ballet is fresh, showing invention and originality, appears to be one of the big successes of the American choreographer."
René Servin, Le Figaro

Neumeier's Sylvia succeeds in sweeping the spectator into a tenderly passionate world of grace and color.
Dance Magazine

Polikarpova
 

Photos
Trailer

 
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