ASTANA – With fairies in white dresses and Scottish men dancing in kilts, Astana Opera premiered August Bournonville’s 19th-century romantic ballet “La Sylphide” for the press on Sept. 28 in Astana.
“La Sylphide” will be staged at the Astana Opera on Sept. 29-30 and Oct.1 and Oct. 3.
Set to the music of Herman Severin Løvenskiold, this ballet is profoundly romantic. It is a story of a supernatural spirit, Sylph, who seduces young Scotsman James on his wedding day. However, James’s chase of a poetic ideal in a heavenly fairy ends in tragedy for both.
“La Sylphide” was first staged in 1832 by Italian choreographer Filippo Taglioni and to music by Jen-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer. History reveals that pointe shoes were used for the first time by Taglioni’s daughter, Marie, to deliver the airy and weightless character of Sylph.
The artistic director of the Astana Opera Ballet company, Altynai Asylmuratova, decided to challenge the dancers of Astana Opera by staging “La Sylphide,” driven by her ambitious goal of hosting exceptional ballet performances on the theater’s stage.
After the staging of the classic “Giselle” and “Chopiniana” in the past seasons, another traditional romantic ballet piece is a perfect addition to the repertoire.
“I keep pursuing my tactic that all the best of 300 years of ballet should be [staged] in this theater. ‘La Sylphide’ is a historic, beautiful ballet, so I think it is just right to add it to our collection. It has a different style as well. That’s how we grow,” she said.
Asylmuratova’s casting instincts are as astute as her coaching. This season, four premiers of “La Sylphide” are performed by four pairs of Astana Opera ballet artists. The theater’s principal dancer Madina Unerbayeva will star as the Sylph on a premiere night.
“The four lineups are true. I took a risk. I did,” Asylmuratova said. “And I think I did the right thing.”
“All four performers are completely different. If we talk about Madina, she is our star, the lead ballerina, she’s a master. So she’s opening this season’s ‘La Sylphide.’ There are also young artists, and they are all absolutely different in terms of their physical capabilities and in terms of their inner world feeling and perception,” said Asylmuratova.
“I think that is very interesting because they can bring something of their own and at the same time learn a lot,” she added.
Trained and danced at the National Opera and Ballet Theater named after Kulyash Baiseitova, Unerbayeva embodies a uniquely distinguished heritage. At that time, she had not quite internalized the character of Sylphide, but now it is part of her.
“It is not the first time that I danced Sylphide. I danced her at the premiere of ‘La Sylphide’ at Kulyash Baiseitova theater. At that time, of course, I was very young and did not understand this role. With time and experience, I came to the understanding of my own style and my Sylphide. I see her in a completely different way,” said Unerbayeva.
According to her, the Bournonville style technique is difficult in that it requires effortless hand movements and finessed footwork to create that light, delicate, almost out-of-this-world dance.