(Natalia Osipova, photo by Marc Haegeman, taken from ABT’s website)
Monday night, I saw the Bolshoi’s Natalia Osipova guest-star with ABT in their production of La Sylphide. I wrote a little about her and more about Herman Cornejo, at the bottom of my prior post. Just to reiterate, if you ever want to see pure excellence, do see Herman Cornejo in something — anything. He is just pure, unmitigated, supreme, excellence!
(Herman Cornejo above, in Le Spectre de la Rose, photo by Marty Sohl, also from ABT site)
August Bournonville’s La Sylphide is the story of a Scotsman, James (Cornejo), who is engaged to be married to a woman named Effie, but is seduced by a sylph (Osipova), who no one but he can see. Gurn, a young man in love with Effie, sees James talking and dancing to the air, and tries to warn everyone that he thinks James has gone mad. But people ignore him. An old witch-like lady, Madge (think MacBeth) prophesies that Gurn will marry Effie. Later, when the wedding party guests perform a fun Scottish folk dance, James continues to be taunted / haunted by the sylph who flies through the air. James chases her but she flies out the window. Later, James is on the verge of marrying Effie, even holding up to her the wedding ring, when the sylph plucks it right from his hand and flies out the window. He chases after her into the forest, her lair. Effie collapses into tears and Gurn leads the groomsmen in search of the missing groom.
The second Act takes place in the forest. The sylph seduces James with food, drink, and dance, but every time he tries to touch her she flies away. James wanders the forest, upset about the sylph’s elusiveness. He happens upon Madge and her mates who are concocting a poisonous brew in which they are soaking a scarf. He tells Madge of his troubles and she tells him the scarf is magic; if he wraps it around the sylph’s wings, he can have her. James takes it. When he next sees the sylph, he seduces her with the scarf’s beauty. She flies toward it, delighted and excited, as he waves it around. But once he wraps it around her wings, she slowly dies.
James, brokenhearted, falls into unconsciousness, as the wedding procession of Gurn and Effie is heard in the distance and the sister sylphs carry the sylphide to heaven.
Neither the story nor choreography are as grand and memorable as Giselle, and I’d written before that I was stunned by Osipova’s athletic prowess but not really moved by her Giselle. Here, I thought that, though I didn’t like the choreography as much, her playful, sky-high jumps made much more sense in this story. Here, she’s not human, she’s not of this world. She’s both a faery and a figure in a man’s dream. So, her unearthly high springing jumps went along with that; they were believable within the story. She is a really beautiful dancer and can certainly jump like no one’s business, but I wished she would have been a bit more tantalizing and playfully vexing, the way Janie Taylor was in Robbins’ The Dreamer. Not like a vixen or an evil spirit; I just mean more forcefully refusing to leave him alone, making him realize what a dull life he’s leading; how he longs for something more. Just like in Giselle, she seemed to be dancing on her own, not really working opposite a partner. It’s probably really hard, though, when there are language barriers, and I think both times either she or her partner (David Hallberg, and Herman) filled in for someone else last minute.
I thought Herman did an excellent job of showing how tormented he was by her, and how confused he was about what to do, how frustrated he was about his life. And his super-charged solo variation expressed that. No one jumps like him. No one. No one turns like Angel Corella and no one jumps like Herman Cornejo. He opened that variation with the best tour jete I’ve ever seen, and I knew — the whole audience knew judging by the gasps — we were in for something huge. Then onto all the high jumps with the fluttering beats of the feet. Everything he does is marked by sheer perfection — perfect sharpness, perfect precision, perfect control, perfect line, perfect clarity, perfect enunciation, beyond perfect height, beyond human height. He’s a god!
My problem with this choreography is that there’s not enough for him to do. And I got really frustrated. I didn’t want that variation to end. Nor did I want Daniil Simkin’s (as Gurn) solo variation to end. There wasn’t enough for him to shine in his either. He had a few kicking jumps, but I need for him to do so much more; Daniil’s too great of a dancer as well! Daniil was hilarious, though, when he imitated to the guests James’s bizarre actions, his weird dancing to the air. In addition to being a superb bravura dancer, he’s a very lively actor too.
On before La Sylphide was Paul Taylor’s light, lyrical Airs. I’m going to write about this more after I’ve seen it a couple more times this weekend, but I love watching ABT dancers do Paul Taylor! I hope no one takes offense and I love Paul Taylor’s dancers, but ABT just brings so much more to “modern dance” than a modern dance company. They bring poetry. Paul Taylor is American modern, and when his dancers dance him it looks celebratory, celebratory of humankind and of the dancing spirit, like something you’d like to get up on stage and do with them. It’s participatory, inviting. Of course you know if you’ve ever tried how hard, how impossible it actually is to dance like them without loads of training. But when you see ABT dancers dance that’s obvious from the get-go. It’s not celebratory and participatory, it’s elevated, awe-inducing dance, dance as an art. You know what I mean? All of the dancers were excellent — particularly Kristi Boone and Misty Copeland, but I loved Arron Scott the most because he so exemplified what I said above: outwardly he looked just like a Paul Taylor dancer, but he starts to move and he’s just so much more!
Photo by Paul B. Goode, of Paul Taylor Dance Company performing Airs, taken from DanceViewTimes)