During her illustrious career with the Royal Danish Ballet (RDB), Sorella Englund was known as both an extraordinary dramatic ballerina and an exceptional interpreter of the works of August Bournonville. Intelligent, poetic, and expressive, she approached each role much in the way that many actors do: by creating a back story for her character. “I think it makes a big difference, because you learn something you didn’t know before,” she said. “You’re on a journey with this person; you’re creating her, but she’s not you. So this person is taking you to new places.”
Englund has staged Bournonville ballets with several major companies and wherever she goes, she encourages dancers to explore their characters to the fullest. Mikko Nissinen calls her “the finest expert on Bournonville today.” Englund shares her philosophy that “No matter what part you’re creating in any ballet, it must be truthful. There must be a past and a present.” Now she brings her knowledge and experience to Boston Ballet as the stager for Bournonville’s La Sylphide.
La Sylphide, the first great Romantic ballet, was originally choreographed by Filippo Taglioni in 1832. Bournonville saw the production in Paris and in 1836 choreographed his own version for the RDB, basing it on the same story, but commissioning a new score by Herman Løvenskiold. La Sylphide takes place on the wedding day of a young man named James who becomes enraptured by the vision of a bewitching sylph. He abandons his fiancée Effie at the altar to pursue the beckoning creature.
“James is a difficult part because it has so many aspects,” said Englund. “He’s a very sweet man who’s lovely to his fiancée, but he’s also passionate and a dreamer. There’s a huge split in his mind, and he doesn’t know where to go or what to do. No matter what he does, things are not going to end happily. I think this is a ballet about a man’s very existence. It’s not only a love story; it’s a search for spirituality. James is looking for something bigger, for some kind of freedom. For him to stay in this small society, where he knows exactly what his life is going to look like, is impossible for him.”
The ballerina who plays the sylph faces a dichotomy of a different kind. “She’s so strong and powerful in her mind, but physically, she’s like the wind,” said Englund. “So her strength should never come through in a physical way. She must look incredibly fragile; the power and passion are in her eyes and mind. In this ballet you have to learn to be more and do less. That’s the hard thing, because as a dancer you always think it’s very boring if you’re not doing a lot. But you have to have the guts to do less and be incredibly present.”