Discover the Ballet of La Sylphide

Romance and Something Unexpected In This French Ballet

Girl dancing
Copyright Christopher Peddecord 2009 / Getty Images

One of the first romantic ballets, La Sylphide was first performed in Paris in 1832. The original choreographer of the ballet was Philippe Taglioni, but most people are more familiar with the version of the show that was choreographed by August Bournonville. His version of the ballet, first performed in Copenhagen in 1836, became the cornerstone of the Romantic ballet tradition. It set an important precedent in the world of ballet.

Plot Summary of La Sylphide

On the morning of his wedding day, a Scottish farmer named James falls in love with a vision of a magical sylph, or spirit. An old witch appears before him, predicting that he will betray his fiancee. Although enchanted by the sylph, James disagrees, sending the witch away.

All seems fine as the wedding begins. But as James begins to put the ring on his fiancee's finger, the beautiful sylph suddenly appears and snatches it away from him. James abandons his own wedding, running after her. He chases the sylph into the woods, where he again sees the old witch. She offers James a magical scarf. She tells him that the scarf will bind the sylph's wings, enabling him to catch her for himself. James is so enamored by the sylph that he wishes to catch her and keep her forever.

James decides to take the magical scarf. He wraps it around the sylph's shoulders, but when he does, the Sylph's wings fall off and she dies.

James is left all alone, heartbroken. He then watches his fiancee marry his best friend. It ends on an emotional tone.

Interesting Facts About La Sylphide

A sylph is a mythological creature or spirit. The ballet tells the story of an impossible love between a human and a spirit, and man's inherent temptation for the unknown and sometimes dangerous life.

La Sylphide remains a captivating, fascinating ballet that appeals to both audiences and dancers. It offers something different than your typical romantic ballet due to the infusion of the sylph and the witch.

The ballet is presented in two acts, usually running about 90 minutes. Many people confuse La Sylphide with Les Sylphides, another ballet that involves a mythical sylph, or forest spirit. The two ballets are unrelated, though that one also incorporates supernatural themes.

The story is set in  Scotland, which at the time the ballet came out, was thought of as an exotic land. That could explain the mythical or supernatural undertones.

Bournoville's adaptation of the production came about when he wanted to revive Taglioni's version of the show with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. The Paris Opera, however, wanted too much money for the score that was written by Jean-Madelina Schneitzhoeffer. That is why Bournonville came up with his own version of the ballet. Herman Severin Løvenskiold created the music and the show launched in 1836.