The ballet Sylvia has undergone many reincarnations since its 1876 premier by the Paris Opéra Ballet. Some of the past two centuries’ most notable choreographers—Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Mark Morris and John Neumeier—have seemed inescapably drawn to creating their own versions of this ballet, as if it was an artistic scratch they simply had to itch. In this 2005 clip, Darcey Bussell dances the title role in Ashton’s revived version for The Royal Ballet.
The English choreographer is a master at setting a scene: the stage appears painted with a palette of shadowy purple, moonlight sliver and inky teal. Sylvia’s character is unusual in classical ballet repertoire, as she’s neither a courtly princess nor an ethereal winged being. Sylvia is a huntress, and Ashton’s choreography for her is appropriately grounded. Bussell’s long, stem-like legs seem impossibly rooted on pointe while she sustains each balance, and she dances to the bell-like intonations of composer Léo Delibes’s melody with impeccable control. Bussell’s movement is confident but understated, technically thrilling but subtly performed. Bussell and Ashton are a perfect pairing in this throwback. Happy#TBT!