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Fri, May 20, 2022, 7.30 pm - 9.45 pm | Main Stage

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Ballet by John Neumeier – Three Choreographic Poems on a Mystic Theme


By John Neumeier (1997)

More rarely performed than "Coppélia", Léo Delibes' other great ballet, "Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane" has nevertheless played an important role in the history of dance. First performed in 1876 at the Paris Opéra in Louis Mérante's choreography, "Sylvia" broke with Romantic ballet and the ethereal image of the fairy or sylphide which gave way to the maiden warrior, a distant sister of Penthesilea.

But the true rupture with the past only came about at the beginning of the 20th century with a project which saw the light of day in St Petersburg. Invited in 1900 by the Mariinsky Theatre to supervise a revival of "Sylvia", which had first come to Russia in 1891, Diaghilev suggested entrusting the production to his "dream team", the painters Bakst and Benois. Tensions flared between Diaghilev and the management and he was dismissed. It was to be a turning point. From then on, Diaghilev never ceased searching for other opportunities and places to realise his theatrical ambitions. Would he ever have gone abroad had it not been for this quarrel? Would he ever have created the "Ballets Russes" in Paris in 1909 without this disappointment? For this reason "Sylvia" turned out, indirectly, to be the key which opened the door to modernity. However "Sylvia's" interest lies less in its historical and cultural aspects and original choreography than in its music.

The score betrays Wagner's influence and, even though it does not shrink from the worst clichés of XIXth century ballet, it is still full of poetry and sensuality.

Do we have to tell a story? And in this case which one? Torquato Tasso's pastoral drama "Aminta" which is the source of the story? One thing is for sure, the rather sentimental version by Jules Barbier and the Baron de Reinach is today outmoded. Why not do things more simply? Danced sequences depicting an Amazon at that fragile moment between adolescence and womanhood. Torn between strength and vulnerability, she has difficulty in finding a balance between aggression and tenderness, between defense and self abandon, and only succeeds in recognizing love with the awakening of her own sensuality.

On rereading Tasso, I realised that the myth was worthier of interest than the anecdote. It seemed therefore normal to hear the music critically and rid the work of its "operetta" elements. In any case, characters, movements and emotional situations all maintain a sometimes surprising dialogue with the music.

Although not wanting to recreate the Ancient world, I was delighted to collaborate with the great Greek painter, Yannis Kokkos, whose blue tree standing before a green wall is reminiscent of Paul Éluard's "La terre est bleue comme une orange". In this inversion of colours lies all the poetry of Kokkos, all the poetry of "Sylvia".

Music: Léo Delibes
Choreography and Staging: John Neumeier
Set and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos

2 hours 15 minutes | 1 intermission
Part I: 60 minutes, Part II: 50 minutes

Le Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris, Paris, June 30, 1997
Hamburg Ballet, December 7, 1997

Sylvia: Monique Loudières
Diana: Elisabeth Platel
Aminta: Manuel Legris
Love/Thyrsis/Orion: Nicolas Le Riche
Endymion: José Martinez

1998 Frankfurt-Höchst, Ludwigshafen 2000 Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo 2009 Baden-Baden

Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris
Finnish National Ballet
The Joffrey Ballet
Dutch National Ballet

[Read more]
By John Neumeier


Diana's Sacred Wood

The god of Love descends into the wood and takes on the appearance of Thyrsis a mere shepherd.

Aminta, a real shepherd, enters the sacred wood secretly hoping to find Sylvia, Diana's nymph.

Diana and the nymph-huntresses appear in the wood to take a rest from hunting and to bathe. Sylvia and Aminta meet. Diana and the huntresses discover the tender exchanges between the shepherd and the nymph.

Taken by surprise, Sylvia betrays Aminta.

Left alone, Diana remembers handsome Endymion, doomed to eternal sleep.

At daybreak, the shepherds, their curiosity fired, enter the sacred wood and find Endymion asleep. Love/Thyrsis is with them.

Aminta's heart is broken. He is obsessed by the vision of Sylvia.

Love feels sorry for Aminta. But he takes on the form of handsome Orion in order to seduce Sylvia. She lets herself be led on by him.


First Scene: Love/Orion's Party

Sylvia becomes aware of her femininity. She discovers pleasure.

Her sensuality aflame, Sylvia is overwhelmed by the memory of Diana and Aminta.

Second Scene: Winter

Many years later, Aminta returns to the sacred wood. Sylvia too returns to the sacred wood. They meet. Their love seems to live again for an instant.

Diana observes them. She is tempted to separate them but Love disarms her.

In the end it is life itself that steals Sylvia away from Aminta.

As for Diana, she remains alone, the eternal huntress.

The program is available in our online shop

Venue: Main Stage, Dammtorstraße 28, 20354 Hamburg
Prices: 6,00 EUR to 109,00 EUR

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