La Sylphide/The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Opera House, London

Last week brought notable interpretations in the two big works of fantasy that the Royal Ballet has on show: Bournonville’s La Sylphide and MacMillan’s The Prince of the Pagodas. La Sylphide, in Johan Kobborg’s staging, is as near faultless as makes no difference. Respectful of the age that produced it – high Romantic dreams conditioned by an inherent Danish decorum and sweetness – it reflects an unbroken chain of performance in Copenhagen since 1836. It also benefits from Kobborg’s identity as an artist for whom the Bournonville academy was nursery, and whose restoration of certain cuts in the score is seamlessly good.

Nothing denies the ballet’s past: Bournonville productions, once lovingly honoured in Copenhagen, now often seem travesties of their originals since “revising” Bournonville has become a national sport there. To Kobborg’s huge credit, this Sylphide guards that mysterious and all-too-evanescent bloom that is Romanticism’s balletic self.

Kobborg is also a grand interpreter of the doomed hero, James; he and his Sylphide, Alina Cojocaru, both gave impeccable performances. The force of Kobborg’s obsession with the sylph, like his dancing, was vividly done, speeding headlong to tragedy. Cojocaru’s delicacy of style, the pretty poses, the airy flights, the elusive mixture of emotions that make her sylphide so enchanting and (at times) so selfishly impetuous: these were stated in dance dulcet, floating, exquisite. My one quibble is with the production’s modish view of the witch Madge. Modern, even vulgar in its playing, devoid of any supernatural menace or cruelty, the role goes for little, and the drama is enfeebled.

This season’s restoration of The Prince of the Pagodas to the stage is welcome, not least in showing how MacMillan could re-work the manners of academic choreography and pay his homage to Petipa. The score is still too copious, almost too vehement, but this strong performance brought Sarah Lamb as a pure, touching Belle Rose, Laura Morera as a menacing and brilliant Belle Epine, Federico Bonelli as a fully realised and danced Salamander Prince, the role admirably well shown, and Valentino Zucchetti as a commanding Fool, the dance bright in virtuosity, untiring in character and effect.

These performances illuminated the fairy-tale, and Gary Avis as the doddering King (an aspen-leaf incarnate) and Jonathan Watkins (a witty sneeze as the King of the West) were splendidly on hand to reveal the choreography’s humours, and its truths.

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