An evening of avant-garde ballet awaits at Volksoper Wien this season. “Les Sylphides” is actually a triple bill of short-form dance masterpieces. Along with the groundbreaking performance of the same name by Michel Fokine, it also includes Eden by Adi Hanan and Jeunehomme by Uwe Scholz. Together, the three pieces form a mystical and beautiful cycle.
Prior to the debut of Les Sylphides on 2 June 1909 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, it was commonly accepted that a ballet performance should have a coherent narrative. Visionary choreographer Michel Fokine broke free of that convention that night, setting the stage for a new genre, which would be called ‘ballet blanc’. The ‘blanc’ refers to the absence of a plot, but do not let the word fool you. Les Sylphides is every bit as exciting, engaging and visually stunning as conventional dance performances, perhaps even more so because of its creative freedom. At the heart of Les Sylphides are a few white-clad sylphs, or nymphs, who dance in the moonlight. Carefully observing them and slowly getting involved in their embodied moods is the young poet, in white tights and a black tunic to set him apart. Together, they recreate a series of moods and mental states, without chasing a definitive outcome or relating a linear storyline. The intense music of Frédéric Chopin lays the groundwork for Fokine’s evocative and impressive choreography. Vienna Volksoper is staging a special artistic journey this season.
Israeli choreographer Adi Hanan has built a solid relationship to Viennese ballet circles, and Eden is another addition to this widely celebrated ballet spectacles in the Austrian capital. Powered by the music of Franz Schubert and Arvo Pärt, the work explores the quintessential biblical story of Adam and Eve. Hanan’s vision of paradise is visceral, animalistic and exciting as the choreographer tackles the themes of authority, innocence, corruption and the physical.
Uwe Scholz’s Jeunehomme, the final work of the night, premiered in 1986 and is exemplary of the German choreographer’s special relationship to music. On the backbone of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, KV 271, Scholz studies intimacy from a number of angles, at once gentle and dramatic, harsh and hopeful, and always visually and emotionally impressive.
Under the title of its lead piece, the ballet triple bill “Les Sylphides” at Vienna’s Volksoper features choreographers and composers from several eras that are firmly united by their creativity and imagination in a celebration of music, dance and human nature.