On Thursdays, we read reviews or news stories about art and study the language used to describe them.  This week’s review is about the English National Ballet’s production of La Sylphide, by August Bournonville.


Here are the first two paragraphs from The Guardian:

With its guileless storytelling and Romantic mingling of the folksy and sublime, August Bournonville’s La Sylphide is a tricky ballet for modern companies to inhabit. Tamara Rojo’s decision to challenge English National Ballet’s dancers to take it on may have been sparked by her brilliantly bold investigation of its sister classic, Giselle, last season, with a traditional staging danced alongside a radically updated version by Akram Khan.

But ENB do not convince in Sylphide as they did in Giselle, in part because Frank Andersen’s production is a tad overliteral in its characterisation, but also because too many of the performances are limited to one note. As the titular spirit Sylphide, who seduces mortal James away from his intended bride, Jurgita Dronina is appealingly light-spun: her arms are pretty, her footwork skimmingly fast; emotions flit across her face with sweet transparency. But there should be a lethally capricious quality to her innocence. We should see James fuddled and intoxicated by her changeable moods, her disarming freedom from moral scruples. And if Dronina’s Sylphide is too benign, Jane Haworth’s Madge, her witchy nemesis, is also insufficiently dark. While Haworth hobbles around with a crackle of sardonic energy, she doesn’t plumb the depths of Madge’s anger, her outsider’s hatred against the world of entitled men such as James.

In the first sentence, the author talks about what makes this ballet so difficult to perform well. She uses the phrases guileless storytelling, which means the story is told very clearly with no surprises. She also mentions the Romantic mingling of the folksy and sublime. She is referring to the Romantic genre of ballet that became popular in the early 19th centuryNext, she talks about the artistic director, Tamara Rojo, and her decision to do this ballet. Last season, the EBN did a similar classic ballet called Giselle with very modern choreography, and it was very popular.

In the second paragraph, the author says that the performance of Sylphide is not as good as Giselle. She says it is a tad overliteral in its characterisation. A tad means a little, and overliteral means too literal or not imaginative, so I think she means that the way the characters look and act isn’t very creative. She also says that too many of the performances are limited to one note. This means the performers only play one side of a character. She gives the example of the titular spirit Sylphide, which means the spirit Sylphide is the title character. She seems only sweet and innocent when she should be more dangerously moody.

Next, she says that James should be more confused and affected by Sylphide’s moods and by her freedom from human rules. She thinks Sylphide feels too safe, and Madge, a witch that is her enemy, is also not dark enough. Haworth, who plays Madge, acts like a witch but isn’t angry enough about the world of powerful men like James.

I’ve chosen 5 words or phrases for you to focus on today. They are in bold. If you don’t know them, look up the meaning, synonyms, antonyms, and other forms of these words. You can find links to Merriam-Webster dictionary sites at the bottom of this page.

What do you think of this article? Which phrases do you like best? Do you have questions about the vocabulary? Do you want to suggest a review for me to discuss next week? Leave a comment below!

To read the original review, written by Judith Mackrell for The Guardian on January 10, 2018, click the link below:

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