Excerpts from La Sylphide and Napoli, presented by State Street
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
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.