Articles from Ballet2000

Sylvia at La Scala, by Legris

Sylvia arrives at La Scala, together with Manuel Legris

Sylvia – chor. Manuel Legris after Louis Mérante, mus. Léo Delibes

Milan (Italy), Teatro alla Scala

Mythology and classical tradition, the grandeur and legend of French ballet. The choreographic version of Sylvia by Manuel Legris (choreographer, as well as co-author, together with Jean-François Vazelle, of the dramaturgy and libretto) is a joint production between La Scala and the Wiener Staatsoper. After debuting in Vienna in 2018, it reached La Scala as the Milanese theatre’s season opened.
Manuel Legris is a former étoile of the Paris Opéra (he was launched by Nureyev), later becoming artistic director of the Vienna Opera Ballet, a post he held until quite recently. During rehearsals in Milan he established a cordial relationship with La Scala’s ballet company which climaxed in his being nominated as their new director.




This outcome seems suggestively reflected in the ballet itself whose origins show an Italian/French synergy embracing literature, music and dance. The mythological ballet, inhabited by demigods, amazons, nymphs, shepherd boys and satyrs, where universal and eternal values such as love and power triumph, is based on pastoral poem Aminta by Torquato Tasso (1573): the ballet was first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1876, with choreography by Louis Mérante (who came from an Italian family of dancers), to the wonderful score by Leo Délibes and with Italian ballerina Rita Sangalli in the title role.

Mérante’s original choreography was reworked last century by Léo Staats, Serge Lifar, Violette Verdy and Lycette Darsonval, all versions that Legris was able to see while he was studying at the Ballet School of the Paris Opéra.

In Milan the ballet was, deservedly, a huge success: it was not just mythology with a contemporary touch but, above all, a vibrant example of how it is still possible to dance works of the past without setting them in sterile “historical” plaster which is agony for the public. Instead, using good taste, craftsmanship and theatrical timing, Legris succeeded in blending the essence of the 19th-century grandeur inherent in Mérante’s original with the Russian tradition revived by Rudolf Nureyev in lavish ballets such as Raymonda and La Bayadère; as he has demonstrated with his Sylvia, Legris is the supreme heir of this influence. He has retrieved the Parisian splendour and re-assembled the material according to modern criteria and tempi; he has taken the best from the Nureyev repertory and meticulously untangled all its choreographic knots.

Legris has done an excellent job with La Scala’s company which looked at home in this full-blown ballet despite being new to it. Martina Arduino in the title role deployed technique, radiance and personality; she was partnered by a fine Claudio Coviello. Luisa Spinatelli reconstructed the Arcadian world of Sylvia taking her cue from the three elements, water/fire/air (as suggested by the three acts): her designs are classy, artistic and inspired, unique as always, with the scenery hand-painted on gauze that leaves centrestage free without getting in the way of the dancing and that, when lit from behind, creates enchanted atmospherics; the costumes are light and gauzy, thus making the dancing impalpable.

Valeria Crippa

BALLET2000 n°284 - February 2020