American Ballet Theatre could be called International Ballet Theatre these days. Its principals, particularly, hail from everywhere. Gillian Murphy, however, one of its fast-rising ballerinas, though London-born is American. She has particularly come into her own this season, winning first casting honours for Sylvia, here in a co-production with the Royal Ballet under Christopher Newton, who staged it last year for the Royal’s Ashton festival. Not exactly a clone of that production, it still emerges triumphantly.
Murphy has all the attributes for the eponymous heroine in a ballet choreographed originally for Margot Fonteyn. In Maxim Beloserkovsky as Aminta, the shepherd who falls in love and dies (temporarily) for Sylvia, a nymph of the goddess Diana, we have a strong dancer, classic in looks and technique, who makes the most of his few bravura moments. No less talented is the high-flying Herman Conejo as Eros, a prime player in this pastoral love story replete with woodland creatures, garland-waving peasants, dryads, fauns, sprightly goats, gods and goddesses and a satisfactorily evil villain, Orion (Marcello Gomes) who abducts Sylvia to his island lair. She outwits him and is restored to Arminta with Eros’ help.
The ballet then becomes a joyous festival in a sylvan setting, the couple’s happiness marred only briefly by Diana (strongly danced by Carmen Corella) who at first opposes their union. In act two Murphy rises to supreme heights, with her breathtaking technical skills (plus a touch of wit in the famous pizzicato solo) and her sweeping lyricism, especially in the final demanding pas de deux.
What strikes one again about Sylvia with its delectable Léo Delibes score (conducted with verve by David LaMarche) is not just the continuous dancing that moves the plot along, but also the inventive and demanding choreography for the ensemble, a challenge to which the corps and demi-soloists rise well. The Arcadian set, the original Robin and Christopher Ironside Second Empire-inspired designs updated by Peter Farmer, are opulent yet light. The company must be congratulated for adding Sylvia to its growing roster of Ashton gems and performing it so well. This is a Sylvia to savour.
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