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The most recent of the enduring classical story ballets to enter NYCB’s repertory, Peter Martins’ staging of August Bournonville’s La Sylphide is filled with passion and elusive love.
A Note from Peter Martins:
La Sylphide is the first ballet that I ever saw. I danced in it when I was a student at the Royal Danish Ballet School, and more than a decade later I graduated to the role of James, the male lead. Working my way up through various corps roles, I came to know this ballet very well, and whenever I look at the cozy domestic scene that provides the setting for Act I, it’s as if I’m staring into my own living room.
August Bournonville, the fountainhead of classical Danish choreography, saw the Paris Opera Ballet perform its production of La Sylphide in 1834, and for two francs and some change, he bought a copy of the libretto and commissioned a new score from Herman Løvenskjold, who happens to be my mother’s sister’s husband’s grandfather. Two years later, the Royal Danish Ballet premiered Bournonville’s version of La Sylphide, and in an unbroken tradition, the work has remained in the company’s repertory ever since.
Over the years several descendants of the Royal Danish Ballet have staged their own versions of La Sylphide. In my staging, which was originally created for the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1985, I chose not to change anything, there is virtually nothing of me in the production. I simply went back to the essential La Sylphide. This is the Romantic ballet that I was brought up on; this is Bournonville as I know it. Oh yes, I did contribute something—I eliminated the intermission!
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