Les Sylphides Chopin – The Ballet And It’s History

les sylphides chopin

Les Sylphides Chopin – The History

Les Sylphides Chopin ballet is a famous ballet in one act.

The choreography was done by Fokine and the music by Chopin.

Les Sylphides was first performed at an examination performance at the Maryinsky Theater, St Petersburg on the 20th of March 1908. It was then performed in a proper theater on the 4th of March 1909. The ballet was first performed in Western Europe by the Ballets Russe at the Theater Du Chatelet in Paris on the 2nd of June 1909.

When Les Sylphides was first done, it was titled Chopiniana for its first Maryinsky performance and it remains so titled to this day in Russia. The ballet was renamed Les Sylphides for its first performance in Paris by the Ballets Russes.

The original cast was let by Pavlova, Karsavina, Baldina and Nijinsky.

les sylphides chopinThe photo on the right was taken of a London Performance in 1911.

What Dances Make Up The Les Sylphides Ballet?

This is the order of the ballet.

Prelude, op. 28, no. 7 – Overture

Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2 – ensemble – danced by the company

Valse, Op. 70, no.1 – solo – premiere danseuse

Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 2 – solo – danseuse etoile

Mazurka, Op. 67, No. 3 – solo – premier danseur

Prelude, Op. 28, No. 7 – solo – premiere danseur

Valse, Op. 64, No. 2 – pas de deux – danseuse etoile and premier danseur

Valse, op. 18 – ensemble – the company

This version below is a full version of the ballet danced by the American Ballet Theater with Cynthia Harvey as the Principle or Premiere Danseuse.

The scene of this ballet is a forest glade. On one side the grey ruins of a monastery, and on the other leafless trees. In the background there is the faint outline of a tomb stone. The ballet is set at nighttime and the moon is throwing patches of silvery light on the stage.

les sylphidesWhen the curtain rises, the corps de ballet and the four principals are grouped in a semi-circle against the forest background. The dancers all wear traditional white ballet skirts of the Taglioni period. When they move the manner of this pure romantic ballet is a series of four variations and a pas de deux framed in two ensembles.

The mood of Les Sylphides is spiritual, tinged with sadness, except for the more animated concluding scene. The total effect is poetry for whose proper performance purity of style is essential without any form of excess exaggeration.

This ballet has no story line and is descended from the shade’s scene in La Bayadere, but Les Sylphides Chopin introduced what was essentially a new genre which was a ballet with moods and no narrative structure as well as no clearly defined characters.

The inspiration for this ballet was the romantic ballet era and the title was from the original La Sylphide.

Fourteen years after Swan Lake, Les Sylphides carried the search further for more expressive movement. The aim wasn’t the normal tricks and double turns one normally sees in the big ballet productions, but rather the patterns and lines creating a more lyrical quality that flows out of the music.

The great achievement of Les Sylphides, in fact, is its musicality. Fokine wanted it to be the personification of a poetic vision.

The Romantic Ballet Era

romantic ballet era

Let’s take a closer look at the Romantic Ballet Era and two of the great choreographers of romantic era ballet productions.

Rethinking the Sylph: New Perspectives on the Romantic Ballet (Studies In Dance History)

This old and rare book can be purchased online and is invaluable for dance teachers and more advanced students or for anyone studying dance.

There were two great choreographers of the romantic ballet era that stood out from the others. The one was August Bournonville and the other was Jules Perrot.

Out of the two, Bournonville’s work has been preserved the most accurately and it is the best guide today of the style and quality of a movement that revolutionized choreography in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Romantic Ballet Era

romantic ballet era

August Bournonville (1805 – 1879)

August was born in Copenhagen and trained there first by his father, Antoine and then by Galeotti. They were both pupils of Noverre.romantic ballet era

In 1820, he became a student of Auguste Vestris in Paris. Here he inherited the best classic traditions of the eighteenth-century French and Italian schools.

Vestris was born in Paris in 1760 and was a premier danseur at the Paris Opera for thirty-six years and even partnered Marie Taglioni aged thirty-one at the time and he was seventy-five.

He became the undisputed master and guardian of the best traditions of romantic ballet.

It was during this time that exploration of all kinds of jumps were invented and unprecedented lightness was achieved with the female dancers through the new skill of dancing on pointe. The qualities of the Port de Bras (arm movements) were worked on to give the arms grace of movement.

The French tradition was one of grace and style, epitomized in the ballets of Pierre Gardel, chief ballet master at the Paris Opera from 1787 to 1827. The Italians, on the other hand, contributed virtuosity in performance, the invention of steps and a more thorough academic approach to classical ballet.

By 1820 many of the exercises and training methods were there already and the flowing empire line and new kinds of shoes had come into fashion. These costumes freed the body and feet for a much wider range of movement than was possible before.

Filippo Taglioni started a harsher regime of training of six hours a day, which by 1832 produced in his daughter, Marie, the new image of ballet which has lasted to our own day.

It was then that choreographers of the romantic ballet era like Taglioni, Bournonville, Coralli, and Perrot, gave the movement directions which have been passed through history.

Bournonville in Copenhagen is unique for the balance he maintained between the male and female dancer, where all other choreographers of romantic ballet emphasized the woman at the expense of the man.

Bournonville’s work has survived not only because of the isolation of ballet in Denmark but because all his ballets challenge male dancers as strongly as they challenge the females.

To this day his choreography remains the basis of the style and school of Danish dancers.

He became a soloist at the Paris Opera in 1826 and danced a season in London before returning to Copenhagen in 1829. Here he created his first ballet and was appointed ballet master soon after until 1877.

In his half-century of life-work, he created the Bournonville style, based on the style of Vestris.

It was evolved through methods of teaching whose principles are described in his technical notes, Etudes Choregraphiques published in 1861, and through the creation of thirty-six ballets and divertissements, a valuable group of which remain in the Danish repertory.

His ballets from the romantic era include:

  • La Sylphide
  • The Fisherman And His Bride
  • Konservatoriet (The Dancing School)
  • La Ventana

Jean Coralli (1779 – 1854) and Jules Perrot (1810 – 1992)

These two were the joint creators of Gizelle and together in this ballet, they show all the ambitions and weaknesses of the romantic ballet era.romantic ballet era

Coralli (pictured on the right) was born in the early years of Louis XVI and trained at the Opera in what was then the best school in Europe. He never acquired distinction as a dancer, but he always aimed at choreography.

In this, he displayed competence with occasional distinction as seen in Gizelle. He never showed that creative originality which distinguishes an important artist, but his strength lay in the arrangement of the corps dancers. He had a gift for knowing what the public enjoyed at a particular moment.

Perrot, (pictured below) who was the son of a carpenter who became chief machinist at the Grand Theater, Lyons, began to study dancing there, then he worked in the boulevard theaters and the Porte-Sainte-Martin of Paris.romantic ballet era

Later through his own ambition, he became a pupil of Auguste Vestris, who instantly recognized his talent.

Thus Giselle jointed two opposite talents – Coralli, by that time maitre de ballet en chef at the Opera, achieving through Giselle his small place in history, and Perrot, self-made, a natural theater man of enormous talent.

Perrot loved the dancing of Carlotta Grisi, and she became the first Giselle. The ballet was written around her.

He left the service of the opera in 1835 after a disagreement with Veron, the director. It was a great loss to the Opera, which became clear after 1841 when Perrot was ballet master at Her Majesty’s Theater, London, where he created most of his greatest works.