Posted on October 19, 2008
Zurich Ballet is certainly adaptable. Also presently dancing William Forsythe’s Artefact, it says a great deal that they can not only turn to La Sylphide, the most enduring of Romantic ballets, but dance it with such conviction and in such authentic style.
Much of the credit must go to Johan Kobborg, whose version this is and who rehearsed the company. The evening certainly oozed Scottishness. The sets and costumes were both loaned from The Royal Danish Ballet, with Søren Frandsen’s Act I manor house nicely realistic, and his Act II misty forest glade the perfect setting for magical sylphs. Henrik Bloch’s costumes certainly give us lots of colourful tartan, although if anything there is rather too much colour, and certainly too much cloth, with most of the men’s kilts falling well below the knee.
Arman Grigoryan as James gave a convincing impression of a man with his mind somewhere else. Indeed, right from the first curtain one got a sense of distance between him and Effie, his bride to be. Galina Mihaylova left us in no doubt that this was the happiest day of Effie’s life; for James it seemed anything but.
There was equally something lacking between Grigoryan and Yen Han’s demure sylph, not helped by Han being a little too unassuming, if anything. There was rarely any sense of her being playful or leading Grigoryan on. Only at the end, as she died following his embrace, did we really see much from him in the way of emotion. By then, I felt more for Effie and Gurn (Iker Murillo), who seemed to be the ideal couple, than I did for the main protagonists.
In many ways the most interesting characterisation was Sarah-Jane Brodbeck’s portrayal of Madge. The programme described her as an “old woman” but far from being a bent-over old hag, this was a tall, oddly pretty and young looking witch. Despite her youthfulness, or perhaps because of it, she was quite scary. She certainly revelled in her power and control of events.
Technically, the whole company had assimilated the Bournonville style. The required ballon, neat, precise footwork and natural, uncontrived mime was delivered in spades. Entrechats and jetés positively soared, yet were also effortless and light.
The principals were well supported by the corps and the children of the Zurich Opera Ballet School, both in the ensemble dances of Act I, and later in the forest where the 18 sylphs shimmered and moved as one with barely a hair or step out of place.
Arman Grigoryan as James in the Zurich Ballet’s new production of La Sylphide. Photograph by Peter Schnetz.