La Sylphide

Choreographer: August Bournonville

Music: Hermann von Lovenskjold

Costumes and Set Design: Desmond Heeley

Lighting: Julie Duro

World Premiere: Royal Danish Ballet, November 28, 1836

PBT Performance Date: April 2006


Synopsis (from PBT playbill, 2006)

Act I
In the home of James, a young Scotsman, and his mother Anna

As the curtain rises, James is dozing in a chair by the fire. Today he will wed his fiancee Effie and is pondering his new responsibilities. He begins dreaming about what his ideal love might be when she suddenly appears as a Sylphide, a lovely woodland nymph, and awakens him with an airy kiss. Unsure if he is dreaming, James tries to catch the elusive spirit, but she vanishes up the chimney. He returns to his chair consumed by thoughts of the enchanting Sylphide. 

Among the wedding guests James has a rival, his cousin Gurn, who is very much in love with Effie. Effie startles James from his daydreaming, but senses that his thoughts were not about her. He reassures her and swears his love, but the observant Gurn is doubtful. During the wedding preparations an old fortuneteller, Madge, enters and huddles in front of the fire to warm herself. Believing that she is a bad omen, James orders her out, but Effie intervenes and Gurn offers her something to drink. Despite James' protests, Effie allows Madge to read her palm. When Madge prophesies that Effie will never marry James but become the wife of Gurn, the enraged James drives Madge out of his house.

Later when James is alone, the Sylphide appears to him at the window, and he becomes enchanted again. Gurn returns in time to see James chasing the empty air. He summons Anna and Effie to witness this strange behavior, but to no avail.

The wedding festivities begin. As the guests dance an exhilarating Scottish reel, the Sylphide flits across the room, invisible to all but James. Finally everything is ready for the ceremony. As James holds the ring with which he is to marry Effie, the Sylphide reappears, seizes the ring and convinces James to follow her into the forest. In the meantime toasts are being given, but when Effie turns to touch glasses with James, he has disappeared. She collapses in tears while a jubilant Gurn leads the wedding party in search of the missing bridegroom.

Act II
In the deep, dark forest

Madge and her grotesque attendants are concocting a poisonous brew in which they dip a goassamer scarf. With this, Madge plans her vengeance on James. The witches vanish, and the mist lifts to reveal a lovely woodland clearing to which the Sylphide has led James. She asks if he loves her. He says that he does, but when he tries to embrace her, the capricious Sylphide flies out of his reach, warning him not to touch her. Suddenly James is surrounded by beautiful Sylphides who dance for him, and he follows them as they disapper into the forest.

Gurn enters the woodland clearing to find James' abandoned jacket, but before he can rejoin the rest of the wedding party, Madge appears and advises Gurn to discard the jacket and propose to Effie. When she arrives, Effie reluctantly listens to Gurn's ardent suit. Convinced she has been forsaken by James, Effie accepts Gurn's proposal.

James returns to the clearing disconsolate because of the Sylphide's elusiveness. Madge appears, and gives James the magic scarf that will enable him to embrace the Sylphide. When the Sylphide reappears, James reveals the gossamer veil. With childish delight she leaps to catch it as James teases her. He tells her she shall have it if she promises to remain with him always. When she consents and kneels before him, James entwines the poisoned scarf about her shoulders. At last he embraces her passionately but soon realizes she is dying in his arms. As he begs her forgiveness, she swears her eternal love to him. She falls in the arms of her sister Sylphides who bear her lifeless spirit upward beyond the treetops as the wedding procession of Effie and Gurn passes in the distance. James, overcome with remorse for he has lost all that was real and good by chasing his elusive dream, falls to the ground unconscious. The old witch Madge exults in her triumph.