Dancing boys in kilts are always a winner, but this early ballet was also the first time in history that the girls went up on their toes.
The Australian Ballet’s La Sylphide tells the story of a Scottish gentleman lured away from his wedding day by an elusive creature of the air, and seduced into the forest by her fellow dancing sylphs.
Danish audiences in 1836 must have been amazed at August Bournonville’s original choreography for pointe shoes, having the sylphs so aerial they barely touched the ground.
Now on her toes and with her new ethereal white tutu, the star ballerina had arrived. It would a century before the spotlight was back on the male dancer.
Lisa Bolte returns from motherhood to the AB to play the title role in this much revived ballet.
She captures beautifully the mischievous but intense swooning of The Sylphide for James in his kilt.
No spring waif, Bolte has the maturity of dance and facial expression to bring alive that butterfly yearning, until of course she loses her wings and falls dead to the ground.
Her performance brings full drama to this slender scenario and contrasts with the mute pantomime acting of many in the ensemble.
Madge, you see, is a wicked witch (artfully hammed by Colin Peasley) who gives James a poisoned scarf with which to catch his elusive new love.
James’s fianc?meanwhile is snapped up by another man in a kilt.
Evil has triumphed and the clich?of Romantic ballet have been established, but from the corps de ballet, in gossamer white and kilts, there is some masterful dance showmanship.
Robert Curran is suitably tall and well calved as James and a strong central presence.
The old sets are still impressive and the original costumes, also from designer Anne Fraser, add gorgeous colour to the Scottish theme.
This is a shiny chocolate box of a story ballet, well executed to pacy playing of the Herman Lovenskjold score by the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under conductor Nicolette Fraillon.
There are some good moments of comedy and a few emotional ones, mostly from Bolte.
La Sylphide is preceded by short extracts from three other ballets, the most startling being the most recent, Grand Tarantella created in 1976.
The Australian Ballet took a sensible turn about 15 years ago when it finally began to explore the language of ballet in some works which were contemporary and even Australian.
Its triple bill, White, opening 3 May, encapsulates the history of white ballet and thankfully includes the world premiere of a new work.
The Australian Ballet’s production of La Sylphide is at the Opera House until 28 April.