Dedicated to "La Danse Française" and its long tradition,
and to Lycette Darsonval who was a great Sylvia.
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.
Music: Léo Delibes
Choreography and Staging: John Neumeier
Set and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos
2 hours 15 minutes | 1 intermission
Le Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris, Paris, June 30, 1997
Premiere in Hamburg:
Hamburg Ballet, December 7, 1997
In the Repertory:
Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris