Peter Schaufuss is umbilically linked to La Sylphide. The oldest romantic ballet to be continuously performed, it received an award-winning make-over by Schaufuss in 1979. His parents danced in the original version, he has danced in it and his both his son and daughter dance in it this evening. It is a kind of family heirloom.
On their first visit to the UK, Australia’s Queensland Ballet deliver a gorgeous production, steeped in highland mystery and alive with the dance. On the eve of his wedding to Effie, James is captivated by a sylph who watches him while asleep, tempts him with a kiss and then disappears up the chimney. As the guests arrive and preparations are under way, James abandons his bride-to-be in pursuit of the girl of his dreams. There is a witch involved, too, so the chances of it ending happily are slim.
Schaufuss keeps the choreography fast and fleet, extending some of the solos and redesigning the ensembles. But it is all true to the spirit of Bournonville’s original, which combines classical steps with Scottish folk dance in an agreeable way. The accumulating momentum of the pre-nuptial dance is tremendously exciting, urged on by the bright playing of Lovenskjold’s score by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Character acting is strong in the company, with Greg Horsman’s Madge a wonderfully cackling witch. Luke Schaufuss dances con brio as James, getting plenty of air under his feet in the jumps and raising dust with his entrechats. Never mind that he looks twelve. Sarah Thompson dances prettily as the Sylph though can’t quite make up her mind whether she is a mythological femme fatale or a flibbertygibbet fairy. The sets, from gloomy Scottish castle to haunted forest, are fantastic in every way. A big, confident production and a thoroughly engaging evening.