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Matthias Strebinger (Music), August Bournonville (Choreography): Flower Festival in Genzano* (pas de deux)
Herman Severin Lovenskiold (Music), August Bournonville (Choreography): La Sylphide & Pas de Deux** (Bonus)

Ballet Rambert and corps, Flemming Flindt (James), Lucette Aldous (The Sylph), Shirley Dixon (Effie), John Chesworth (Gurn), Gillian Martlew (Madge), London Symphony Orchestra, Norman Nelson (Conductor), Rudolf Nureyev (Paolo)*, Merle Park (Rosa)*, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House*, Ashley Laurence* (Conductor)
Bonus: Act Two, La Sylphide (pas de deux)**, Flemming Flindt (James)**, Elsa-Marianne von Rosen (The Sylph)**, Pro Arte Orchestra, Max Salpeter (Conductor)**
Recorded BBC Studio** (January, February 1961, July 1960) & Sadler’s Wells Theater* (December 1974) – 80’55
ICA Classics 5099 – Picture format: 4:3 – Sound: enhanced mono – Booklet in English

The DVD restoration of the Ballet Rambert’s La Sylphide (The Sylph) by Danish choreographer Auguste Bournonville’s is an invaluable artifact for ballet students, scholars and for die-hard classicists. It is a pristine example of 19th century ballet vocabulary, but, also a glimpse into a very particular era in post WWII classical dance, that was about to change radically for all time.

Bournonville’s choreography influenced many aspects of classical dance and without doubt, he was one of the best ballet storytellers. The pantomime and gestural acting, for instance, continues to be instructive in understanding character, narrative, physicality and deportment of story ballets. As filmed and edited at BBC studios in 1961 in a way that captures craft and dance theater magic, this Sylphide has a contemporary screen atmosphere. The BBC was creatively invested enough not to just statically record the performance at a distance, as a dance museum piece under glass.

The story of a James, the Scottish farmer betrothed to Effie, but on the eve of their wedding, the Sylph appears and she entrances him. Meanwhile, Madge the village crone meddles in the love triangle when James leaves the wedding party and pursues the Sylph in the forest. Ballet Rambert stars Lucette Aldous as the Sylph and Flemming Flindt as the kilted farmer have screen sex appeal, but there is no question of their artistry. Aldous particularly, is a luminous presence, with diamond hard clarity in her phrasing; Flindt’s powerful jumps and steely turns clear expressions of character. Shirley Dixon has luminous energy as Effie and John Chesworth as Gurn. Gillian Martlew’s is a brilliant characterization right out of silent cinema. The strong corps de ballet work by Ballet Rambert captures their fine youthful esprit of the time.

There is no supporting commentary about the choreography or the circumstances of the performances which makes this a no frills archival presentation. The DVD bonuses are a let-down but fascinating for different reasons. ICA includes an adapted Bournonville pas de deux danced by Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park from 1974 performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and broadcast on the BBC in 1974. Nureyev famously danced the solos from La Sylphide early in his career, executing all of the pyrotechnics with fiery power. Nureyev obviously abandoned the precision he was famous for at the Kirov and by now, mostly leans on what looks good on him and highlights his stage persona. Though, his chemistry with Park is palpable even on film. Nureyev was famous for cold partnering if he didn‘t like his co-star. So you assume that the great Nureyev is not phoning this performance in. His solos are pyrotechnic, but very sloppy, like he wants the race to be over. In contrast, Park seems much more focused on technical artistry. Another bonus filler is Flindt and Else Marianne von Rosen performance from 1960 of the Act II duet.

Lewis Whittington




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