Review | La Sylphide

REVIEW | La Sylphide by West Australian Ballet

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, May 18

Reviewed by Janelle Vaccaro

Created in the 1800s, La Sylphide is one of the world’s oldest surviving ballets. Fittingly one of Australia’s oldest ballet companies, West Australian Ballet, is performing this classic at the stunning His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth until June 2.

Claire Voss and Oscar Valdes in LA SYLPHIDE. Photo Emma Fishwick

La Sylphide was the first ballet where dancing en pointe had an aesthetic component, not just an acrobatic stunt as had been the approach in the past. It is the story of soon-to-be-married Scottish farmer James who is captivated by a mystical sylph one evening – ‘an imaginary spirit of the air’. The storyline of La Sylphide revolves around James’ fruitless efforts to forget this magical experience which was presented with effortless grace and poise by principal dancers Gakuro Matsui and Chihiro Nomura on their opening night performance.

Sarah Hepburn took to the stage with all the youthful innocence of bride-to-be Effie in a festive performance with the wedding guests. As they filled the stage, complete with grand set design, the life and energy of the full chorus was remarkably engaging and entertaining with many intricate transitions and all the enthusiasm of a true bridal procession.

The celebration is soon disrupted by the old fortune teller Madge, played ever so charmingly by Christian Luck who held a strong presence on stage providing a great raw energy to contrast with the sweetness that is La Sylphide. ‘She’ is only too happy to indulge in predictions of heartache and betrayal for the entitled farmer who has made his disdain of her presence at the party well known.

Oscar Valdes. Photo Emma Fishwick

It is not long before Madge’s prophecy is fulfilled when James is so captivated by the Sylph’s ethereal beauty that he follows her into the forest leaving the wedding guests bewildered and Effie heartbroken.

The second act has a strong and dramatic opening with malicious Madge and her crew dancing around the cauldron, producing a magic scarf to aid in her vengeful plot. Meanwhile James is introduced to the Sylph’s enchanting woodland realm. Polly Hilton leads the forest sylph sisters in a sweet and stunning performance against a beautiful backdrop and lighting design that pulls the audience into another world – dreamy, mystical, calming and transcendent.

Wandering about the forest in search of James, Effie soon becomes weary and accepts a marriage proposal from James’ rival Gurn, played by Perth’s own formidable Adam Alzaim. Madge’s masterplan is further materialised when James is tricked into placing the ‘magical’ scarf around the Sylph resulting in a tragic turn of events – her wings fall off, she dies in James’ arms and he too suffers the same fate.

The age old themes of jealousy, revenge and lusting after something more, something better – some heavenly experience are played out with graceful precision by the West Australian Ballet in this timeless classic. The weightlessness of the dancers was a truly memorable element of the night; in the males taking flight with awe-inspiring height in their grand allegro to the sylph sisters gliding over the stage almost airborne.

The story’s dark conclusion brings to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s idea that happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you – a gentle reminder of the power of presence, and the eternal human struggle to live in this truth.

Photo Emma Fishwick

WA Ballet has exceeded itself with this latest classic ballet production.

Read our previous article on La Sylphide here

La Sylphide | WA Ballet
18 May – 2 June 2018
His Majesty’s Theatre
Bookings via