La Sylphide is one of the oldest surviving romantic ballets. The première in Paris in 1832 saw Marie Taglioni dance on pointe shoes, the first female dancer to do so, but it is the Danish version premiered in 1836 by August Bournonville, which became famous all over the world and is still danced today. It is performed here in Moscow on the Bolshoi’s new stage, where the Russian and Danish dancing styles meet and the young soloists Anna Tikhomirova and Artemy Belyakov prove that the company is currently at a high level.

© Damir Yusupov

La Sylphide takes place in Scotland, and starts in a cosy setting with James sleeping in his armchair next to the fireplace. Next to him appears a sylph, whom he falls in love with. While he wakes up the sylph disappears through the chimney, and it appears as if no one else has seen her. Although hinted to be just a fantasy, James is obsessed with the dreamy creature and can’t let go of her, even though the preparations for his wedding with Effie are in full swing. As the sylph reappears James decides to follow her in the forest, where the witch Madge convinces him to give her a magic veil with which he can posses her, whilst in reality it will kill her. Effie marries Gurn instead and James learn the hard way: he realises that in trying to possess the unobtainable. he has lost everything.

Johan Kobborg's version of Bournonville’s ballet is fresh, and clear yet leaves an air of mystery around the character of the sylph. Even those without knowledge of the synopsis should be able to get the story line, mainly thanks to the effective mime which is of great importance in this ballet. Without too much glitter and glamour, scene changes, characters or acrobatics La Sylphide is a sophisticated and poetic ballet with a deeper meaning and intention.

Dancers of the Bolshoi in Kobborg's La Sylphide
© Damir Yusupov

That the Bournonville version of La Sylphide entered the Bolshoi repertoire is interesting, given the stylistic differences between the Russian and Danish school of dancing. The Bournonville style is not about showing off (although it does require a very strong technique) and reaching the highest possible extensions or covering the longest possible distance in a jump, but about natural grace, balloon and quick footwork. This is quite the opposite of the the Bolshoi style which is athletic, expressive and dramatically intense. Yet this seemed not to be an obstacle in this performance. The challenges presented by the quick footwork and lightness were met with great ease by the technically strong dancers of the company, and they danced with a natural charm with here and there a little Bolshoi boldness, all very much in balance.

Artemy Belyakov, in the role of James, shows strength and confidence in his solos and has a pleasant and mature stage demeanour, and both Tamara Mironova and Egor Khromushin are charming as Effie and Gurn. But the star of this performance is the sylph, the magical creature born in James’ dreams and fantasies. The sparkly Anna Tikhomirova floats across the stage and her seemingly effortless jumps and the lightness and elegance of her every move make her convincing as the ghostly creature. But what’s more is her light-hearted joyful appearance. Her face lights up everytime she sees James and her eyes sparkle with joy whenever she playfully steals his hat and runs away from him. It is not hard to understand why James fell for her charm. It is heartbreaking to see her die, with her wings falling of, her body shaking and her gaze reaching to the audience with shock and despair. Both dancers in the leading roles are not principals (yet) which only further demonstrates the high standard of the Bolshoi Ballet.