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La Sylphide

The Royal Ballet

August Bournonville's tale of a man's doomed love for a magical sylph is a classic of Romantic ballet.

Introduction

James wakes from a dream on the morning of his wedding to see a beautiful winged sylph before him. His obsession with the creature risks his happiness and that of his fiancé, Effie.

Background

August Bournonville's La Sylphide is an adaptation of an 1832 French ballet of the same name. The original work showcased the technique of the great ballerina Maria Taglioni and announced a new Romantic era of dance. Bournonville was the first choreographer to recreate La Sylphide. It is his version that has survived – the ballet has been performed regularly by the Royal Danish Ballet since its premiere in 1836.

In La Sylphide, the human realm of a small Scottish community – evoked by folk songs in Herman Løvenskiold's score – meets a spiritual realm. James, a classic Romantic hero, is bewitched by a beautiful and otherworldly sylph. Although he is unable to touch her, he movingly echoes her movements in his. Bournonville placed a greater emphasis on the narrative in his version of the ballet and developed the characters of the embittered witch and James (a role he danced himself). The Royal Ballet’s production is staged by the Danish choreographer Johan Kobborg, himself steeped in the Bournonville style.