Excerpts from La Sylphide and Napoli, presented by State Street Ballet
At Gustafson Dance, Sunday, February 4.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer
It required dedication to come out on Super Bowl Sunday for a mid-afternoon preview of two classical ballets to be performed this coming weekend, but State Street Ballet rewarded its loyal supporters richly, and not only with a delicious buffet.
Before the curtain parted to reveal the first segment of the 19th-century ballet La Sylphide, SSB’s artistic director Rodney Gustafson came forward to share with the audience a brief history of ballet. He pointed out that, for many years, ballet was a male-dominated realm. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that women were permitted to appear onstage, ushering in the era of the so-called Romantic ballet, of which La Sylphide is the prime example. La Sylphide, which was first performed in Paris in 1832, originally starred Marie Taglioni, a tiny girl whose slight frame emphasized her character’s other-worldly qualities. But Marie was desperate to appear elongated and slender, so she begged her father, the ballet’s choreographer Filippo Taglioni, to allow her to dance on her toes. Marie’s ethereal “toe-dancing” was wildly popular, and thus was born the classic image of the slender, delicate female ballerina, as well as the modern phenomenon of women dancing en pointe.
As the sylph, Sylvia Rotaru was fittingly tiny, flitting across the studio with her mortal lover in hot pursuit. His powerful legs partially hidden beneath a Scottish kilt, Ryan Camou commanded attention and pulled off a particularly impressive scissor kick. In long, flowing tutus, the chorus showed well-rehearsed unison and strong technique, making the ballet’s complex geometries look effortlessly natural. Two short segments of another Romantic ballet, Napoli, followed, showcasing the skills of seven of the company’s male dancers alongside the women.
At the end of the showing, Gustafson called the whole company onto the studio floor. They all seemed eager, dedicated, and delighted to interact with their audience, if also a little tired. When asked about the physical requirements of this particular technique, one male dancer cheerfully explained that Napoli’s combination of unusually slow, high jumps and rapid footwork left them all sore for weeks. “These guys are burning about 3,000 calories a day!” Gustafson announced proudly. Those of us sitting in our seats may not have earned our calories in quite the same way. Then again, something about watching live dance quickens the pulse. And when it comes to watching men in tights, lemon bars and live ballet sure beats sitting on the sofa eating cheese puffs.