Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Sylph

A fascinating one woman show about Marie Taglioni  The Sylph image via Old 505 Theatre.
The Sylph is a fascinating one-person show excellently written and performed. It will be of particular interest to balletomanes and people interested in feminist history.
The Sylph written by Australian ballet dancer Jodi Rose and as performed by Gertraud Ingeborg tells the story of legendary Marie Taglioni, one of the earliest ballerinas to dance en pointe, who was born in Sweden in 1804 and rose to prominence in the early 1800s and died in 1884. She is one of the most renowned ballerinas of the Romantic era. A crucial factor in changing ballet history as women took over from men, her superstar status changed the face of ballet entirely (the play opened on the anniversary of her birthday by the way). Rose’s script is warm and at times biting and witty – it is as if we are an old friend listening to Taglioni chatting.
Dressed in severe Victorian black long bustle dress and pearls – as in one of the rare late photos of Taglioni – Ingeborg is imposing, charismatic, warm and dignified as she fluidly interweaves Taglioni’s personal story of love and heartbreak, with that of her dancing career, including the stage performances in front of royalty and long grinding tours across the cities of Europe where she was feted.
Set in her later years, in The Sylph Ingeborg as Taglioni remembers her life, lovers and the choices she made along the way as she knits and soaks and dries her feet among other things. She was born into a theatrical family of opera singers, choreographers and ballet dancers. Ingeborg vividly portrays Taglioni’s relentlessly driven domineering father who home schooled her and instituted a rigorously severe regime of ballet practice, to develop her strength – like an Olympian athlete – and in part to camouflage her ‘defects’. Taglioni was subject to hours upon hours of daily classes that produced her ground breaking style and technique.
Much is also made of what we would say today is her use of the media to create her ‘image’ (linked in with the Sylph herself – of purity and innocence) and conceal her, what was then considered, rather scandalous love life. Mention is made not just of her most famous role – La Sylphide (The Sylph) an imaginary somewhat dangerous airy spirit but also her performing in Pas De Quatre among others. There is only a very brief allusion to her rivalry with Fanny Elssler. The death of Taglioni’s protégé Emma Livry is tragically recalled. We also learn of the various classes that Taglioni taught for upper society in London.
Ingeborg gives a tremendous performance and yet there is really very little actual dancing. As Taglioni she reflects on an extensive career gently balancing regret and affection and we see in a quite modern way how she had to juggle being a mother with a major performing career and her almost fairy tale life lived with princes and palaces in major European capitals.
Tom Bannerman’s rather simple elegant set with a couple of chairs and tables is most effective especially in this small intimate theatre and when we need to concentrate on the performance. The soundtrack notably of performances by concert pianist Roy Howat and cellist Tom Kimber, also make a vital contribution to the shows flow and pace. Intriguing use is made of WB Yeats’ poem 'The Stolen Child' and we see Taglioni as the Sylph in her forest with the butterflies.
An inspirational, fascinating performance which has only a very short season. Catch it if you can.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Sylph 

The Sylph written by JODI ROSE
Direction and design by COLLEEN COOK
Music provided by ROY HOWT and TOM KIMBER
Old 505 Theatre
Running time just over an hour no interval.

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