La Sylphide

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

30/07/2009 - 02/08/2009

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

06/08/2009 - 09/08/2009

Civic Theatre, 88 Tay Street, Invercargill, Invercargill

19/08/2009 - 20/08/2009

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

26/08/2009 - 29/08/2009

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

13/08/2009 - 14/08/2009

Municipal Theatre, Napier

02/09/2009 - 03/09/2009

Production Details

Romance, Revenge, and Men in Kilts  

Romantic love and revenge take centre stage during the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Meridian Season of La Sylphide.

Stunning sets from The Australian Ballet recreate the moody Scottish highlands for this gorgeous traditional ballet from master Danish choreographer August Bournonville.

The story features a love-struck young Scottish groom who is lured away on the eve of his wedding by an elusive tree fairy called a sylph. With scheming witches and ethereal sylphs this season will bring a touch of magic to the New Zealand winter for dance fans.

Producer Matz Skoog says Bournonville’s production of 1836 has survived for good reason. "Although the story of La Sylphide revolves around emotive subjects such as love, loss, revenge and ultimately death, it is first and foremost a very beautiful piece of dancing," he says.

La Sylphide is seen as the quintessential ballet from the Romantic era – the mid to late nineteenth century – a period in which artists turned against industrialisation, taking inspiration from nature and emotion.

The Meridian Season of La Sylphide opens with Dances from Napoli. Colourful and full of life, Dances from Napoli encompasses highlights of Bournonville’s ballet Napoli, including the Flower Festival of Genzano pas de deux.

The season tours six centres – Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Auckland and Napier – from 30 July to 3 September. The RNZB is thrilled to again be partnered by orchestras in four centres: the Vector Wellington Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Southern Sinfonia and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.


30 July – 2 August
St James Theatre
Featuring the Vector Wellington Orchestra 

6 – 9 August
Isaac Theatre Royal
Featuring the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra

13 – 14 August
Regent Theatre
Featuring the Southern Sinfonia

19 – 20 August
Civic Theatre

26 – 29 August
Aotea Centre at THE EDGE ®
Featuring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra 

2 – 3 September
Municipal Theatre

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Cast List: St James Theatre|Wellington|Thursday 30 July 2009 
Conductor: Marc Taddei

Dances from Napoli 
Pas de Six: Renee von Stein, Maree White, Jacob Chown, Catherine Eddy, Abigail Boyle, Brendan Bradshaw
Flower Festival:  Clytie Campbell, Michael Braun
Tarantella:  Alessia Lugoboni, Rory Fairweather-Neylan, Adriana Harper Benjamin Chown, Alayna Ng, Kyle Wood, Cassandra Wilson, Paul Mathews

La Sylphide
Sylph:  Antonia Hewitt
James:  Michael Braun
Gurn:  Rory Fairweather-Neylan
Madge:  Jon Trimmer
Effie:  Adriana Harper
Effie's Little Sister:  Megan Wright
Mother:  Turid Revfeim
Lead Sylph:  Abigail Boyle
Leading Sylphs:  Renee von Stein, Katie Hurst-Saxton
Villagers, Witches, Sylphs: Artists of the Royal New Zealand Ballet

Act I - 20 minute interval - Act II - 20 minute interval - Act III

Katherine Grange and Haruka Tsuji appear by kind permission of the New Zealand School of Dance



Perpetuating imperial European cultural legacies

Review by Nicholas Rowe 28th Aug 2009

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest offering of Dances from Napoli and La Sylphide presents a nostalgic homage to 19th Century Danish choreographer August Bournonville. As with all such homages, this production raises important cultural questions.

Is a Romantic vision of Italy and Scotland from Denmark too superficial to perpetuate? The flair of gesture so prevalent in Southern Italy is oddly absent in Napoli, with arms instead pressed down in courtly restraint. Herman Lovenskjold’s score for La Sylphide, whilst offering the occasional tooting nod to Scottish Reels, generally ignores Celtic musical influences. This leads to an uncertainty over why such cultural impressions continue to be sponsored here in the South Pacific in the 21st century.

But nostalgic-homage time it is, so how did this one fare?

By presenting only divertissements from the third act of Napoli, Artistic Director Garry Harris’s focus for this piece became the technical skill of the company’s dancers. This was perhaps a challenge too far. With arms held down stiff in port-de-bras, Bournonville’s notoriously bouncy choreography can make dancers look like grinning carnival toys bobbing in a choppy bath.  In such a manner, the Pas de Six meandered along neatly but aimlessly, giving each dancer their time in the spotlight like a well-structured eisteddfod.

The sharpness and grace of some of the female dancers, notably Catherine Eddy and Renee Von Stein, lifted the work and gave it some moments of visceral enchantment. Clytie Campbell brought further fluid footwork in the Flower Festival pas de deux and greater energy tumbled on to the stage through the corps within the Tarantella. The overall lack of height, technical virtuosity and gravitas amongst the men of the company did, however, put their female partners into a seemingly maternal relationship throughout Napoli. As a result, most of these supposedly Italian pas de deux seemed to be more about mama than bella

La Sylphide appears more suited to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, as they are generally more comfortable looking at each other and telling a story than looking at the audience and showing off.

The First Act spun by like mime on speed, all gestures and bounce, inside a scene well-established by the breathtaking height of Anne Fraser’s castle hall. Rory Fairweather-Neylan’s portrayal of Gurn brought an entertaining sidelight to the drama, but the show ultimately belonged to Sir John Trimmer and his brilliant portrayal of Madge the witch. With subtle wrist inflections that expressed legions, his solid performance highlighted the Royal New Zealand’s current need of more mature male artists of stature.

The Second Act brought much more dancing (although this tended to happen around the story rather than through it) and on the whole La Sylphide presented an engaging myth.

Throughout the entire evening the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra enhanced the mood of both works, with only occasional battles over tempo simmering across the footlights between the solo dancers and the conductor. Whilst this backward-looking season may not be a landmark showcase of local creativity, it perhaps fulfils a local need to perpetuate imperial European cultural legacies.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 

[Dr. Nicholas Rowe is a Senior Lecturer in Dance Studies and Associate Dean (Postgraduate) at the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland.]


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Polished performances capture true spirit of this melodramatic dance

Review by Bernadette Rae 28th Aug 2009

The artistic ideals of the Danish balletic tradition are faithfully and beautifully reproduced in this Royal New Zealand Ballet season of La Sylphide, choreographer August Bournonville’s hallowed contribution to the Romantic style. 

As near as we can know, La Sylphide today is virtually unchanged from its premiere in 1836, because of the careful stewardship of the Royal Danish Ballet which has maintained and regularly performed it over almost two centuries. [more]
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Michael Braun January 16th, 2013

I remember this as being a successful season for the RNZB. Does this mean the world needs more Bournonville? Yes please!!

Let's have a poll ;D

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Timeless Romantic ballet demonstrates talents

Review by Kerri Fitzgerald 09th Aug 2009

When a recession is biting, the magical world of Romantic ballet becomes more inviting. The dancers of the RNZB grace the stage presenting an enchanting programme offering the heart warming Dances from Napoli followed by the historic tale of obsessive love: La Sylphide. The season of Bournonville choreography is dedicated to Poul Gnatt who brought this rich heritage to New Zealand in the 1950’s.

The opening exudes a delightful youthful physicality and exuberance amidst warm hues of pinks and golds. The dancers’ consistently assured technique allows the audience to relax and enjoy this piece with its stylish ballon, controlled lines and robust leaps. A gracious Pas de Six perform with finesse and delicacy and a winsome duo (Clytie Campbell and Michael Braun) deliver with confident partnering, full extensions and a gentle ease, communicating a believable romance.

Dances concludes with a vibrant Tarantella, complete with tambourines, which harnesses the light and buoyant spirits of the dancers. They comfortably display their fancy footwork in this snappy, playful choreography. This is a piece which gives a feeling of order and grace to the world. Satisfying and energising.

The moors, the mist and the castles of Scotland figure in the mystical La Sylphide. The set is magical with its stone walls, its stately ambience and its clever chimney. A tapping at the window does not reveal the ghostly arm of Catherine (a la Wuthering Heights), but instead reveals a teasing, spirited, sylph-like creature who quickly entices James into the game of love.

The magical forest glen, into which the hapless James stumbles, is created with dreamy overtones and delicate greens; a perfect setting for the bittersweet ending to unfold.

This timeless Romantic ballet gives many dancers opportunity to demonstrate their talents. Jon Trimmer’s characterisation of Madge, the evil crone who presides over a cauldron, again reveals his mastery of gesture and nuance; this man is a national treasure. Antonia Hewitt explores the humanity of the sylph and she brings the choreography to life bringing out the playfulness and depth of the character. Her dancing is light, refreshing and secure.

The inevitable demise of the sylph is delivered with truth and integrity. Hewitt is ably partnered by Michael Braun who dances with aplomb; he skilfully finds the nuance in the gestures, and delivers an impassioned James.

Of particular note is the cohesiveness of the corps de ballet who dance with a sense of unity and purpose. Their pleasing stylistic qualities and the evenness of their technical control demonstrate a thorough rehearsal period.

Brave the cold, fight the recession … go to the ballet!
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Highly enjoyable and satisfying

Review by Lyne Pringle 01st Aug 2009

La Sylphide is one of the great romantic ballets and this was a fabulous rendering of it. The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s founding father Poul Gnatt mounted the work in the Bournonville style for the company in 1958 not long after its inception.

The Bournonville style, essentially the unfiltered 19th century technique of the French school of classical dance, is light and airy with lightening fast and assured petite batterie for the feet and a soft rounded use of the arms. It is a pleasing form and in this production the company, dancing finely, step up to evoke a world of mystery and beauty.

There is a realness about the performers that is impressive; they exude a sureness that pays credit to former RNZB director Matz Skoog’s role as Producer. I had the sense that the dancers have a well integrated sense of the style and the Romantic ballet idiom.

Equally impressive is their acting; the characters are well delivered and we are drawn into the world of the ballet right from the very first moments when Antonia Hewitt as Sylph evokes the spirit of the famous Marie Taglioni from the first production of the work by her father Filippo Taglioni in 1932: that the Bournonville lineage has remained unbroken to the present day – kept alive by the Royal Danish Ballet and passed down through generations of dancers and choreographers – is cause for celebration.

The acting allows us to ride the dramatic trajectory of the dance and to be engrossed in the enchantment taking place. The mimetic gestures are deeply inhabited and have a sense to them that I often find lacking in ballet.

The production is greatly aided by the incredible costumes and stunning sets by the late Anne Fraser on loan from the Australian Ballet. Under the baton of Marc Taddei the Wellington Vector Orchestra delivered fine renderings of Herman Lovenskjold’s score for La Sylphide and Hoger Pualli/Eduard Helsted score for Dances from Napoli

It is intriguing that La Sylphide is set in Scotland – I wonder if there was some influence from Shakespeare here or a nod to the close histories of Nordic climes and the Scottish highlands. 

A romance develops between a Sylph or forest sprite and a gentleman farmer James (Michael Braun) that causes James to run off with the Sylph into the forest jilting his betrothed Effie (Adriana Harper), who very quickly takes up with the best man Gurn (Rory Fairweather- Neylan). However an old crone/witch (Madge) – brilliantly portrayed as always by Jon Trimmer with his immaculate comic timing – who has a less that cordial relationship with James conjures up some mischief so that eventually the Sylph and James fall prey to a scarf that Madge has infused with poison.

Michael Braun brings a fresh energy to the part with and ease and fluidity to his variations; he is totally believable in the role, as is the chemistry between him and the Sylph who keeps reappearing in his smoky Scottish lodge.

The duet between Braun and Antonia Hewitt after she comes in through the window on the forest breeze is enchanting and lovely; it is immensely satisfying to see this kind of rapport onstage. Antonia Hewitt is exquisite throughout, dripping with serenity and grace then surprising with deep penchees and dynamic split leaps; particularly moving in her death scene.

Rory Fairweather-Neyland brings great gusto and precision to his role and his balon is impressive.

Lead Sylph Abigail Boyle dances with exquisite timing and line as does Renee Von Stein and Katie Hurst-Saxon as the Leading Sylphs. I was mesemerised by the corp de ballet in Act II, they are exquisite in their unison and their commitment to movement; a breathless quality as if we can see their souls dancing.

The evening begins with another Bournonville classic with Dances from Napoli, a technically demanding work which – on opening night – became more fluid and pleasing as the dancers warmed up and I am sure it will develop more fizz with further performances. The Pas de Six works well as a unit with the men exhibiting precise footwork and balon and the women pleasing arabesques. I particularly like the way the women use their heads in travelling steps. There is a beautiful marriage of music and movement as well as a dynamic use of the stage space.

Clytie Campbell and Michael Braun shine in the famous Flower Festival Duet.

Company director Gary Harris’s beautiful costume design brings the piece alive and in the final scene the stage is ablaze with swirling colour as the whole company revels in a joyous tarantella; the final sequence of jetes coming forward in a line is stunning.

This was a highly enjoyable and satisfying evening of ballet.
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Michael Braun January 16th, 2013

I'd love to do this ballet again. Or at least see it performed! :D

Almost made me wish I was scottish - the kilt isn't such bad attire.

On second thoughts, I remember it being bloomin hard to jump in! (I was wearing undies!)

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Brave and bright ballet perfect on a cold night

Review by Jennifer Shennan 01st Aug 2009

This night at the ballet is spirited, poignant and beautiful, for a host of reasons and all of them the right ones.

Firstly the season of Bournonville vintage choreography from old Denmark is dedicated to the memory of Poul Gnatt who brought that heritage to New Zealand and grafted it onto new growth here, back in 1953. He and his family should be very proud of that enduring achievement.

But don’t for one moment think this is an evening for the oldies who only want to live in the past. The whole production is lively and sparkles with some brilliant dancing.

The opening suite from Napoli, with Flower Festival pas de deux interpolated, is a cameo of the vivacious dancing of Bournonville that made Danish ballet famous. Here staged by Gary Harris, the dancers give a brave and bright showing, and the males in particular deliver a wonderful command of the deliciously contained technique. (The tambourines are a shade tentative though. Gnatt smashed his and sometimes even broke it in exuberance.)

But it is the classic work, La Sylphide, that transports the night. In a vibrant and accessible production by Matz Skoog, a former artistic director of this company, we see something very fine indeed.

In a memorable interpretation, Antonia Hewitt dances the sexiest sylph in the business. No fragile spirit from another realm, she is here, she is now and she is a sparkler.

Radiant, mischievous, exquisite – but then dead. O dear. James is the dreamer who follows her seduction and loses everything. That theme is echoed in Shakespeare, Schubert and Stravinsky ("One happy thing is every happy thing. Two is as if they have never been.") and this ballet’s story helps us to think about that.

James is brilliantly danced by Michael Braun in fine fettle, and a worthy inheritor of the line of outstanding male dancers for which this company has earned fame.

Jon Trimmer has performed in every production of La Sylphide since the first in the fifties. Here he plays Madge, the evil crone who holds a power in her foul cauldron that disturbs all hope of peace.

Charles Mudry, internationally renowned ballet teacher, has been working with the Company during this rehearsal period and the pedigree shows.

O what a fine evening – for those who have found the winter long and cold, who have cares that are beyond easy cure, who are deeply moved to see history honoured yet kept fresh, who ever made a mistake, or knew regret, or who simply love truly beautiful dancing and highly spirited music (the orchestra delivers the goods at top speed).

The rest of you needn’t bother.
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