La Sylphide


Karine Seneca and Yury Yanowsky in August Bournenville's La Sylphide

Photo credit: Angela Sterling


A romantic tale of unattainable love set in the Scottish Highlands.

Boston Ballet in La Sylphide

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

Elizabeth Olds and Melissa Hough in La Slyphide

Photo credit: Sabi Varga

While James, a young Scotsman, restlessly dozes in a chair on the morning of his wedding, he dreams of a beautiful, ethereal sylph. Suddenly awakened, he is surprised to see the woodland fairy, but she mysteriously vanishes.

Rousing James from his daydream, his friend Gurn enters, followed by Effie, James’ bride-to-be, for whom Gurn also pines. They are soon joined by their friends who surround the couple and wish them well. James is startled to discover the village sorceress, Madge, warming herself on the hearth. James wants to throw her out, but Effie begs her to stay and tell her fortune. Madge gleefully tells Effie she will be happily married, but to Gurn, not James. Angrily, James forces Madge to leave.

The guests depart and James, left alone, is again overtaken by visions of the elusive sylph. He is enraptured as the sylph playfully dances about the room. Gurn discovers James with the magical creature and attempts to expose them, but she vanishes into thin air before he has the chance.

As the wedding festivities begin, the guests dance a Scottish reel. James is about to give Effie her wedding ring when the sylph snatches it from his hands and places it on her own finger. She beckons James to follow her to the forest and they dash out of the room, leaving Effie bewildered and sobbing.

Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine in August Bournenville's La Sylphide

Photo credit: Angela Sterling


The second act opens on Madge and her coven dancing around a cauldron, creating a scarf with magic powers. James has followed the sylph into the dark forest, but she continues to escape his embrace. Gurn, Effie, and their friends enter the woods looking for James, where they run into Madge. She convinces Gurn to stop searching for James and marry Effie who reluctantly agrees.

Madge gives James the enchanted scarf with a promise that it will enable him to capture his true love. But as the cloth of the scarf touches the sylph’s skin, her wings fall to the ground. She becomes blind, painfully clutches her heart, and dies. Full of despair, James looks out across the glade and sees the wedding procession of Gurn and Effie, who were married earlier that day. Stunned and alone, James collapses to the ground as the sylph’s lifeless body is borne through the air.