August Bournonville was wrong: his ballets have survived him. How surprised he'd have been to learn that his first success, "La Sylphide," would someday be danced the world over. Last night, the 150-year-old work was given a new revival in Richmond.
Virginia's capital has something of a tradition for appreciating the romantic ballet. The stellar Fanny Elssler danced here in 1840 at the citizens' request and "dazzled" her audience. While Elssler personified the sensual soul of romanticism, Marianna Tcherkassky, guest ballerina in the new Richmond "Sylphide," was so gossamer that she died as much from her mortal lover's kiss as from the vengeful witch's spell.
Tcherkassky's dancing was like summer lightning--unexpected, swift, magically silent. Leaping past her James, she covered the Mosque's wide stage with an ease that Bournonville would have admired.
Fernando Bujones, guesting as James, was thoughtful at first, even a bit didactic. After leaving his comfortable fiance', however, he began to show passion in pursuit of the elusive Sylph. In the second act he was all asteam. His dancing was driven, which Bournonville might not have liked. It didn't matter much, though, since the production was not notably Danish in style.
Staged by Frederic Franklin, who also mimed the role of the witch, "La Sylphide" emerged in bold strokes rather than in fine detail. Given the enthusiasm and energy of the local dancers of the Richmond Ballet, and their lack of polish, Franklin's emphasis worked well. The story unfolded as the drama of the witch's revenge, and Franklin's piercing eyes and pointing fingers were aimed at all who were beautiful or happy.
As curtain raiser, Franklin staged a sample of the Russian tradition, the Pas de Dix from the Petipa-Glazounov "Raymonda." Leslie Peck, too light and lyrical for this ballerina role, was nevertheless professional, as was her cavalier Jerry Schwender. The strict classicism of this pas did not show the other Richmond dancers at their best.
Akira Endo conducted the Richmond Symphony with gusto. The sets and costumes for "La Sylphide" were Robert O'Hoeran's, familiar from American Ballet Theatre's production. The Richmond Ballet will dance its Russian-Danish bill again tomorrow afternoon.