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Fall Arts Preview | OUT OF TOWN

Suddenly, it's Sylvia in the spotlight

September 19, 2004|Lewis Segal

It's been a banner year for the virginal huntress Sylvia -- first in San Francisco, where choreographer Mark Morris gave her some new adventures, and soon in London, where some enterprising Brits are piecing together her actions from half a century ago.

Who is Sylvia, what is she, you ask? First off, she's the title character of a three-act Parisian ballet from 1876, with a glorious score by Leo Delibes. In 1952, the late Frederick Ashton used that score (supplemented by four pieces from the same composer's "La Source") for his second full-length work. But it never achieved the popularity of Ashton's "Cinderella" (its predecessor) and eventually fell out of the Covent Garden repertory.

Blame the plot, derived from the Parisian original and shaped by the dislike of male dancing prevalent in Paris at the time. In fact, the only action that this ballet's terminally ineffectual hero ever manages to accomplish is getting shot with one of Sylvia's arrows.

A rehearsal film exists of Ashton's choreography, and the upcoming Royal Ballet reconstruction is based on that footage and other sources. The company has scheduled 11 performances this season (the centennial of Ashton's birth), with the premiere scheduled for Nov. 4. Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope are the first of three sets of principals cast in the leading roles. Performances will continue through Dec. 3.

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