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La Sylphide [1978, Chicago, Civic Opera House]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0483
Run Time
0h 51m 33s
Date Produced
"La Sylphide" is a romantic ballet in two acts, originally choreographed by August Bournonville in 1836. The Chicago Ballet performed a restaging set by Frederic Franklin in January of 1978.

This version was recorded at a January 1978 (dress) rehearsal in the Chicago Civic Opera House, presumably just before its premiere there on January 12. The cast appears to include: Lynn Seymour as the Sylph, Peter Schaufuss as James, Frederic Franklin as Madge, Cynthia Ann Roses as Effie, and Gregory Begley as Gurn.
The video opens after the rehearsal has already begun, skipping James' initial dream-encounter with the sylph and beginning just as he glimpses the witch Madge in the corner and responds angrily since it is not the sylph again. Effie grabs her fiancée and begs him to let Madge tell everyone's fortunes. He acquiesces, and Madge is brought forward. After indluging in several drinks, Madge prepares to tell fortunes and the onlookers fidget in nervous excitement. They soon begin approaching her one at a time for palm readings, some of which are good news and some of which are bad. Eventually, she predicts that Effie will end up with Gurn rather than her betrothed, James. Outraged, James sends Madge away.

Effie and her friends then scurry upstairs to prepare for the wedding and James blows her a kiss. He then sends the rest of the guests away and is finally alone in the room again. He reminds himself of his love for Effie but moments later finds himself enticed by the sylph in his window. She descends into the room and dances a coy solo before him. She pauses midway through for comments from a viewer or orchestra member, and then resumes. James tries to resist her charms, insisting that he is engaged to be married, but he soon relents. Gurn happens to see this occur and runs off in the shadows to tell Effie. James is just about to kiss her when he hears his fiancée approaching from upstairs. He tries to convince the sylph to leave or at least hide; he covers her with a blanket just in time for the bridal party's entrance.

Gurn claims to Effie that James has hidden the sylph under the blanket, and is very confused when it is lifted to reveal nothing. Still, he insists that she was there, but the rest laugh it off and celebratory ensemble dances begin. First a group of female dancers enters, and then a group of male dancers in kilts. Following them, Gurn dances a solo, and then Effie dances one of her own. Next is a solo by James (not danced 'full out'), comments from offstage, and a repeat of the solo. Then the matron announces a couple's dance, introducing Gurn to a young lady partner. The two fall in line behind James and Effie. The betrothed couple performs a Scottish folk dance-inspired pas de deux (though they 'mark' rather than performing it 'full out'). They then lead the rest of the group in an ensemble couple's dance. It changes formations several times but the ensemble eventually returns to rows and all strike a final pose. Next, they thank their partners and the matron gathers some of the attendees on the side to look at fabrics and dress the bride; James is left alone, and the sylph reappears. She convinces him to run off with her, so when Effie emerges in her wedding garb, James is nowhere to be found. She becomes very upset and the matron sends some men off to find him. They return to report that he is nowhere in the immediate surround; then Gurn returns to report seeing James in the woods with the sylph. Effie becomes even more upset, and Act I ends with the womenfolk surrounding her in support and the menfolk conferring nearby.  The curtain drops.

When the curtain rises again for Act II, the stage is dark and a group of witches dances around a cauldron. After the exit the stage remains dark for a few moments before a sylph in all white begins a solo at center, soon joined by two others. After dancing a brief pas de trois, the three exit and James' sylph floats onstage, soon followed by James himself. She welcomes him to her domain in the woods, bringing him berries and blowing him kisses. There is a pause for comments, and then the video cuts forward slightly to a large group of sylphs onstage. All dance in an ethereal ensemble as James wanders among them and looks on. Before long, the sylphs move to the sides of the stage and pose there, allowing James' sylph to dance a solo at center (which she largely 'marks'). James then follows with his own solo (also 'marked'). When he completes it, the other sylphs dance in small groups and solos, exiting two and three at a time. 

The video then cuts forward slightly to James and his sylph alone onstage again. She marks another solo, after which he does the same. When his sylph begins dancing again, others collect far upstage. After a second solo by James, the four that collected run downstage and start a finale. They are soon joined by the rest of the sylphs, including James and his sylph in front. After all strike a final pose, the sylphs exit. But they return momentarily in small groups, as if to haunt or tantalyze James. Finally, his own sylph dances across stage alone and he follows her offstage. The two then return for notes and repeat the sequence. 

After a few moments of an empty stage, the search party led by Gurn enters. Gurn then encounters Madge, who convinces him to propose to Effie and then hides. When Effie enters and Gurn tells her there is no sign of James, she begins to walk away in sadness. But, encouraged by Madge, Gurn approaches and proposes to her. At Madge's further encouragement, Effie agrees and the couple exits together, followed by the matron and the rest of the search party. Madge then exits mischievously, and James reenters. Madge then reappears with a magic scarf. He assures James that if he wraps his sylph in it, she will be his forever and unable to fly away from him. James begs for and then buys the scarf from Madge, triumphantly holding it up as his solution for a happy ending.

After Madge exits and the sylph enters, she dances a shy solo while James professes his love for her. The two pause for notes, and the video cuts forward a bit to a more energetic dance by the sylph and James while he presents the scarf to her. The two 'mark' the rest of this pas de deux, in which they both profess their love and the sylph consents to being wrapped in the scarf. But once wrapped in it, the sylph suddenly becomes weak. All of the other sylphs arrive in rows, tenderly unwrapping their weakened sister, helping her up, and standing beside her in solidarity. As James' sylph slowly walks forward, he kneels by her side with concern and grasps her hand.

The ailing sylph then feels herself fading, blows her lover a goodbye kiss, and is lifted away by the other sylphs. James is left alone with his head in his hands, but suddenly hears people approaching so goes to hide in some trees. Effie then enters with Gurn and the rest of their party. She looks about momentarily, half-hoping to find James, but Gurn takes her away and the rest follow. James emerges as they leave, looking on with shock, as Madge appears to happily wave at the passing party while James once again takes his head in his hands.

The dancers once again pause briefly for notes and then the scene continues: James tries to push Madge away but she points up to the sky, presumably gesturing toward his deceasd sylph's ascent. Overwhelmed, James collapses on the ground. Madge helps him up and once again points as the sylph (now visibly) floats by. James reaches toward her, and begs Madge to fix things but Madge refuses so James collapses again. Madge stands over his now-dead body and raises his hand in triumph. This appears to represent the end of the ballet, as the two then break character and begin walking away. 

The video then cuts to more bits of rehearsal of that final scene, with James differently costumed and some other dancers supervising the sylph's float across stage. In this second version, James doesn't collapse all the way to the ground (and thus doesn't die?), but the curtain falls as he kneels there. The video then goes black for a few moments and ends.
Additional Credits
Franklin, Frederic (is choreographer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Seymour, Lynn (is performer)
Schaufuss, Peter (is performer)
Franklin, Frederic (is performer)
Roses, Cynthia Ann (is performer)
Begley, Gregory (is performer)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)