The ballet “La Sylphide” is so old-school, it can feel quaint. But it can also be a beautiful reminder of the art form’s past, as seen this past weekend in a performance by Ballet Frontier of Texas at the Scott Theatre.
Ballet Frontier’s Chung-Lin Tseng has restaged August Bournonville’s 1836 work — it is one of the oldest extant ballets — in Taiwan and for Ballet Frontier in 2011. This production brings back Tessa Moore in the title role of the Sylphide (at the performance reviewed, Saturday; Anastasia Snyder performed the role Sunday), a wood fairy who falls in love with Scottish woodsman James (again played by Dan Westfield), who is already engaged to Effie (Elizabeth Villarreal on Saturday, the performance reviewed; Cayce Diggs on Sunday).
Bournonville’s version (older ballets of the same story did not survive) is important because of the way it uses pointe work as part of the storytelling, and not just as embellishment.
Ballet Frontier’s production handled this, notably with the sylphs in the second-act forest scene, with technical prowess. The work also relies heavily on pantomime in the first act, with can seem hokey, but the dancers were thoughtful and communicative.
In the first act, some of the large ensemble scenes, filled with lively Scottish-folk-influenced dance, needed minor tightening, but this is a pre-professional company that makes use of pros, teens and children. Westfield and Shane Howell as James’ jealous friend Gurn were both commanding in showpiece solos, with Westfield tapping into palpable grief in the second act.
The company’s artistic adviser, Enrica Tseng, played the witch Madge with an appropriate amount of cartoonish evil, and the corps as a whole improved in the second act, working more in unison.
Moore has played the Sylphide before, and she still retained innocence and the longing that comes with young and true love, but added a touch more maturity this time. She and Westfield have partnered a number of times, and their chemistry was again apparent.
Ballet Frontier has gotten stronger over the years, undoubtedly due to increased recognition and a newish studio that bring in more ballet hopefuls, which means more competition and better level of talent.
“La Sylphide” is not the most sophisticated or moving of the full-length story ballets, but Ballet Frontier reminds us that it is worth revisiting every once in a while.