Performing Arts: Dance
May 10, 2015
The NYC Ballet Gala drew it’s usual throng of train-tripping dresses and air-kisses, but instead of featuring new choreography dressed by a famous designer, the audience was treated to solid fare in a tribute to August Bournonville.

Part of a Danish dancing family, Peter Martins and his son Nilas Martins were influenced by another, historical dancing family that fathered the dancer, choreographer and teacher August Bournonville. Trained by his father and the French virtuoso dancer Auguste Vestris, Bournonville embraced overall grace, expressive mime, buoyant jumps and brilliant leg beats. Subsequently, 19th century ballet was greatly enhanced by Bournonville. Because this tradition formed Peter Martins, NYC Ballet’s ballet master, it made sense for him to devote an evening to Bournonville’s Divertissements and La Sylphide.

A series of energetic exchanges between groups of men and women is seared in bright light and expresses a youthful vigor. Men pat tambourines while women spin around on one leg, waist ribbons flying. Attention focuses on the quick footwork and graceful angling of the torso against the lower body. Barely a minute of rest, the dancers are constantly airborne during the Bournonville Divertissements . In the Pas De Deux from the “Flower Festival in Genzano” Sara Mearns silkily rotates attitude turns into feathery jumps and torso dips. Dutiful and devoted, her partner Tyler Angle releases a confident stretch of beats across the stage.

Guest conductor Henrik Vagn Christensen moves the score by Edvard Helsted and Holger Simon Pauli briskly along.

The 19th century romantic ballet, “La Sylphide” set to the lilting music by Herman Severin Lovenskjold, is a cautionary tale. A betrothed young man, James (Joaquin De Luz) gets cold feet, offends a witch (Georgina Pazoguin) and chases an ephemeral fairy woman, The Sylph (Sterling Hyltin) inviting disastrous consequences.

While lounging in an armchair, James is visited by an effervescent sprite. Delicate arms wave him along; he embarks on a chase until his hands fold around her waist, lifting the weightless creature. Soon, friends joyously burst into the house, and the sylph hides under a blanket in the armchair. Dressed in traditional kilts, the men join the young women bustling around, preparing the wedding festivities.

Without being noticed, Madge, a haggard old lady, sneaks in to warm up by the fire. Furious at the intruder, James orders Madge out, but his sweeter-tempered fiancée, Effie (Brittany Pollack) welcomes her palm readings. However, Effie is horrified by Madge's insistence that she will not marry the arrogant James and instead wed Gurn (Daniel Albricht). Henceforth, James and Madge are mortal enemies.

Left alone, James spies the Sylph in the window and their love is cemented in mimed gestures of true love. He chases her into the foggy woods where the girlhood of Sylphs curl into coves of three and four, arms lilting at their sides, framing stretched necks. Hyltin suspends her weight, breathing easily into the feathery jumps and sparkling turns. An effortless jumper, De Luz eases through the cavalcade of lower leg beats traveling speedily from one diagonal to another. Well matched, Hyltin and De Luz make easy spice of the technically intricate choreography. Alas, Gurn discovers the lovers, tells Effie and suggests himself as her groom. Naturally, this all happens under Madge’s manipulation.

Both Martins men breathe naturalness into the new stagings. Similarly, both casts successfully manage the musically and physically tricky choreography with grace and enthusiasm.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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