A cold, grey and misty day seemed to perfectly suit the Atlanta premiere of the gentle, Romantic tragedy of La Sylphide. Atlanta Ballet’s opening weekend showcased a variety of the company’s rising stars, including their director. In just three years, Gennadi Nedvigin has done a brilliant job of bringing true purity and classicism to his young ensemble, and his choice to bring Johan Kobborg to stage this opulent production, complete with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, illustrates his vision – and profound success – of continuing to elevate the level of classical ballet in Atlanta. Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s brilliant score, with its touching leitmotifs of joy and tragedy, was sensitively conducted by Tara Simoncic.

Atlanta Ballet in <i>La Sylphide</i> © Charlie McCullers
Atlanta Ballet in La Sylphide
© Charlie McCullers

Continuing elevation and sensitivity might well be themes of La Sylphide, as the Sylph, by definition, an enigmatic character, must appear to fly and flit through the air with the lightest and most delicate of touches. Airi Igarashi had a beautiful ballon and had mastered the helpful but unusual weight changes that Bournonville graciously supplies his ballerinas with, that are often misunderstood, particularly in the opening solo. Igarashi’s Sylph was flirtatious and nearly mischievous, clearly and openly inviting Sergio Masero-Olarte (as James) to join her, and expressing clear, human distress at his interest in his fiancée. Masero-Olarte showed a powerful technical command and his first act solo, including the complex selection of brisés with assemblées en tournant was crystal clear; however, his acting and mime abilities were somewhat overshadowed by his rival, Gurn (danced by Bret Coppa). Coppa was obviously, but not obnoxiously, infatuated with Effie, played slightly over- dramatically by Erica Alvarado, and the way his burst of dance – in an attempt to impress her – was immediately overtaken by James illustrates how brilliantly Bournonville weaves plot and dance into one.

Sergio Masero (James) and Airi Igarashi (La Sylphide) in <i>La Sylphide</i> © Charlie McCullers
Sergio Masero (James) and Airi Igarashi (La Sylphide) in La Sylphide
© Charlie McCullers

The dancing in the first act was nearly overshadowed by the brilliance of the sets (from American Ballet Theatre) and it was lovely to see the old devices – the Sylph flying up the chimney, then appearing in the window in arabesque – still bring the story to life, as did the mime, which was convincing and explanatory to those who did not know the story. This is another testament to Kobborg, Nedvigin and the rest of the Atlanta Ballet team’s skills in coaching their dancers.

If there was a weakness in the production, it was among the corps, all of whom seemed able, but lacking a sense of unity and cohesion. A look at the biographies in the program explains this, as the majority of the corps de ballet ladies come from different schools and training methods in the United States, and many are relatively new to the company. I look forward to an increased unification with this gifted group. The second act was as beautiful and opulent as the first, the costumes for the Sylphs could not have been lovelier. Kobborg’s added dance for the Sylph and James (which, he explains in his excellent program notes, was musically in the original score – along with notations from Bournonville) felt odd to one used to productions without it, but it certainly made more narrative sense for the Sylph to introduce James into her forest wood, even as she flitted away from him.

Atlanta Ballet in <i>La Sylphide</i> © Charlie McCullers
Atlanta Ballet in La Sylphide
© Charlie McCullers
The extended ballet blanc was lovely, the three soloists, Ashley Wegmann, Sujin Han and Mikaela Lauryn Santos all illustrating a loving care for the necessary style. The corps de ballet showed their youth in their somewhat concerned-looking pose changes, and in their tentative, almost uncomfortable “breathing” movements while poised. This was natural enough, however, when considering that in most ballets, a corps dancer in a classical piece is generally praised for appearing to be as near to a human statue as one can be! The “natural” feeling of Bournonville’s works is no longer “natural” for today’s dancers, and this is one of the reasons we must continue to preserve, and consistently dance, these precious works. Masero-Olarte was excellent, though it seemed as though the weight of his impressive kilt might have been something of a hindrance to his turns. Igarashi only grew lovelier as the ballet went on, and her solo and coda within the pas de deux gave a genuine feeling of being a sparkling, magical impulse, rather than choreography.

A first-time viewer at Atlanta Ballet, I was very impressed with the production and the obvious commitment to it from all involved. I very much look forward to watching this company’s continued development, and was delighted to truly enjoy one of our great classics being performed so well.

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