Les Sylphides - A (Personal) History

February, 2018

This Easter, we are going to work on the romantic ballet Les Sylphides, also called Chopiniana. The reason for the different titles is that between 1907 and 1909, Mikhail Fokine choreographed several versions of this ballet blanc.  


First premiered as 'Chopiniana' in 1907 in Saint Petersburg, it consisted of only four pieces of music with very simple narratives. 
Later on, more music was created and the narratives dropped in favour of the ethereal theme of 'sylphides dancing in the moonlight' and the term 'ballet of the mood' was coined. The final version premiered as 'Les Sylphides" by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909 in Paris.


During my online research, I found on http://dancers.invisionzone.com this amusing quote by 'Doubleturn': '...we were cautioned never to be too dogmatic about what we had learned as Fokine had constantly made changes and revisions every time he remounted the ballet. Apparently, at times in Europe, there had been furious arguments between ballerinas who had learned Les Sylphides in different companies with both asserting that theirs was the "correct" version as "Fokine taught it to me himself"!'

Britt Rodemund, Valse-solo

State Ballet School Berlin, ca. 1988

Nicole Siepert and Matthias Brühlmann, pas de deux

State Ballet School Berlin, ca. 1988

I loved dancing this ballet in school. Although, my memories of rehearsing the corps are mixed. I remember having to practise the standing and lying formations in unforgivingly uncomfortable poses in a freezing studio and not being allowed to wear a long-sleeved top over our leotards as not to obstruct the teacher's view.
Or the insistence of our (less-favourite) teacher to place our finger on the back of her sweaty neck to get the feel of the correct neck position. 
Because we did not engage terribly well and may have giggled too often in rehearsals, she considered us rather immature. I can see her point. No wonder her astonishment when she learned that the following year I was given the opportunity to dance the main part, the pas de deux. 

This was a totally different story. We worked with a great teacher and I took rehearsals extremely seriously, too serious perhaps. 
I was in 6th grade, 16 years old, looking more like 13. All was good when I rehearsed with my partner one grade above me. 
However, when he was not there, I had to rehearse with a student from the 8th and final grade, which at this age is a monumental gap.

I was the shyest, most introverted person imaginable, and here I had to dance what is basically a love-duet: leaning my head against his chest, longing, teasing...typical sylphide practises. 
I remember especially vividly one moment where we had to stand in an embrace and were meant to look into each other's eyes. Clearly, I did not dare to. So..., he took my chin and turned my head towards him. I am still dying internally just by writing it. 

But since I performed with my better-suited partner, I did noticeably well. This part is also one that I was never afraid of, probably because there were not pirouettes involved, and therefore I could fully immerse myself and enjoy. 

One of the best pieces of advice I received just before going on stage was to calm my partner whilst performing. You may have heard me say to you to calm your fellow students during exercises. This is where it originates from.