Written by Robyn Jutsum
Les Sylphides, not to be confused with La Sylphide (a Romantic two-act ballet choreographed by August Bournonville in 1836) is considered the first plotless, or abstract, ballet. It was choreographed by Michael Fokine and premiered in 1909 in Paris with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Set to music by Chopin, the original cast included ballet stars of the time, Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky. The Ballets Russes later performed in the ballet’s Stateside debut in 1916, a few short years after its world premiere.
The origins of Les Sylphides began 2 years before its world premiere with a 1907 debut of Chopiniana in St. Petersburg. This became the basis for Fokine’s reworked Les Sylphides.
Although in many ways a Romantic “white ballet” (in the same category as, for instance, Swan Lake), this ballet was a modern influence for 20th-century ballet. It was the first plotless, or abstract, ballet, performed in one act, where it is the “pure dance” that carries the piece, rather than an established storyline. To help provide a bit more context, the basic premise is a lone male (the ‘poet’) surrounded by woodland nymphs or, Sylphs, dancing in the moonlight.
In 1972, New York City Ballet premiered Chopiniana, a stripped down version of Les Sylphides, named after the ballet’s origin, and choreographed by Alexandra Danilova, after Michael Fokine. Unlike the original ballet, Danilova’s Chopiniana doesn’t have women in long Romantic tutus. They instead wear white leotards and simple white wrap skirts, the sleek and minimalist aesthetic similar to much of George Balanchine’s works for the company (For instance, Apollo, 1928 - women in white leotards and short white skater skirts with tights and Agon, 1952 - women in simple black leotards with tights). The original cast included Karin von Aroldingen, Susan Hendl, Kay Mazzo, and Peter Martins.
Chopiniana was overall a success. Anna Kisselgoff, a critic for the New York Times, wrote, “In presenting this new production of “Chopiniana”... the New York City Ballet staged the most sensational event of the dance season so far... There is no question that this reinterpretation... will be considered an outrage by those who keep in mind Fokine's intentions. Yet this production must be viewed almost as a completely new ballet. On its own terms, the concept behind it proved a daring success. There has been no rechoreography. The steps, like the text of a play, have been preserved. But as in a modern dress version of a classic play, the direction gives this text new meaning.”
According to this review, Lincoln Kirstein requested that this ballet “which he saw as “the last classic ballet” before Balanchine's “Serenade” (1934), be done for the City Ballet. It would… ‘show the continuity between Fokine's and Balanchine's classicism.’ ”
You can read the full review here.
Les Sylphides was not only influential in the early years of the 20th Century, but it is still today a commonly found piece in pre-professional and company repertoires. We are enjoying visiting this classic over the course of August. There are just 2 weeks left to join our Cardio Ballet classes inspired by the ballet before we shift gears into something new for September! Sign up online or through our free mobile app which is available for download to Android and IOS devices!
Check out the video below to learn the secret to those gorgeous swan arms and lean back and arms of ballerinas! This exercise is taught by The Ballet Spot's founder and owner, and professional dancer, Eliza S. Tollett.
The iconic swan arms from the ballet Swan Lake aren't just for ballerinas - anyone can practice swan arms to strengthen your back and arm muscles! Bonus - this exercise will improve posture and core strength as well. And you don't need any prior dance experience to give this a try....
Start by standing tall with your feet together. Touch the back of your wrists up high over your head, pull your elbows apart, sliding your hands behind your head, then push your hands apart with resistance, like you're moving through almond butter :)
Practice slowly at first, then speed up the tempo. But keep your form - shoulders away from your ears, abdominals engaged, and rib cage closed (so your back is not arched).
Practice daily to achieve a stronger, more graceful port de bras, and a strong and flexible upper back with improved posture. Enjoy!
Join Eliza for Cardio Ballet on Mondays and Fridays at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT and Total Body Barre Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am ET / 7:30am PT and Saturdays at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT on Zoom!
You can also join Eliza for in-person classes in Santa Monica, CA: Mondays at 7:30am at 2501 Wilshire Blvd, and Fridays at 7:30am on the beach at Dorothy Green Park.
Did you know that abs are for more than just looks? It's important to have SUPER strong abdominals to support your movement no matter what your exercise of choice! And crunches are SO 2015.... The most effective exercises for abs include movements that engage multiple muscle groups and lengthen and strengthen at the same time.
Here are some easy but powerful exercises for strong abs and core taught by our instructor and pro dancer Colby!
Join Colby for Total Body Barre Express on Fridays at Noon ET / 9:00am PT on Zoom.
Properly held turnout is important for ballet not just because it looks good - it's so important to learn to use the correct muscles so your hips, knees, and ankles stay healthy and strong!
This is an easy and effective exercise taught by Ballet Spot Instructor and Marketing Manager, Robyn, that you can do at home to improve the mobility and strength of your hip rotation. Practice this exercise standing up as well as on the mat. Make sure to lift your abdominals to engage your core and hold your back strong. Keep the front of your working hip relaxed and use your hamstring and glutes to place your retiré position. The leg your standing on should be working SUPER hard to maintain correct placement throughout.
Start with 8 repetitions and work your way up to 16! Make sure to practice on both sides.
Join Robyn for Total Body Barre on Mondays at 5:30pm ET / 2:30pm PT and Sundays at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT, as well as Cardio Ballet on Thursdays at 8:00am ET on Zoom.
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