Ballet Estable del Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires
Sylvia as video live stream
Buenos Aires, Teatro Colon
29 August 2015
It is past midnight, in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning. I’m on holiday in a cottage on the salt marshes at the edge of a remote village-by-the-sea in North Norfolk and yet by the miracle of the internet and digital technology (an HDMI cable attaching a wireless-enabled iPad to the TV) I’ve been transported to a box inside the opulent auditorium of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, to watch in real-time the last performance in a week-long season of Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia (in the recreation masterminded by Christopher Newton for The Royal Ballet to celebrate the choreographer’s centenary).
The live streaming of ballets allows viewers around the world to experience new companies and new dancers that it would not normally be possible to see. In this case, the ballet company of the Teatro Colón has to be congratulated on setting out its stall to the world with such accessibility. Argentina is a country beset with economic and social problems and yet the company had the courage to openly expose its new take on this full-length ballet, making sets and scenery from scratch and bringing in Susan Jones – of American Ballet Theatre – to stage the production: she had performed the same function for the Mariinsky in St Petersburg last year. In Buenos Aires, her preparations were interrupted by industrial action but – despite the limited time available – it is clear that she has done an impressive job.
Unsurprisingly, the sourcing of costumes and scenery at such a distance (with only performance DVDs as guidance) has led to a number of anomalies compared with The Royal Ballet’s 2004 revival. In particular, the Act 2 costumes for the title character (Sylvia’s iconic harem suit) and Orion are different (it is worth noting that the DVD of the Royal Ballet’s Sylvia has Thiago Soares’ Orion wearing the same costume throughout but since it was filmed, the original Act 2 costume has been reinstated). Nonetheless, to make all the costumes and scenery locally (which must have proved cheaper than hiring and shipping) and retain a faithful appreciation of the ballet’s original style is to be applauded.
For me, the newly discovered jewel in this performance is 22-year-old Macarena Giménez, the latest in a parade of Argentine ballerinas that has recently included Marianela Nuñez in London and Paloma Herrera in New York. Both Nuñez and Herrera were supremely talented at a young age and Giménez already possesses the diverse attributes required by Ashton of his leading ballerina in this title role (originally made on Margot Fonteyn). She has the imperious arrow-like jump of the huntress, the intuitive musicality, solid balances and fast terre-a-terre footwork required in the pizzicato variation, the controlled turns and seductive charm of Orion’s captive; and Giménez so smoothly captures the romantic lyricism of the final act pas de deux. I am generally biased towards tall dancers as Sylvia (Darcey Bussell and Zenaida Yanowsky both produced memorable performances in The Royal Ballet’s 2004/5 revival). Giménez is a smaller ballerina but she gives nothing away in power and command, presenting to the world an absorbing, enchanting and always expressive characterisation, capturing both the strength and vulnerability of this huntress nymph.
The excellence of Giménez’s performance is all the more laudable given the late change of partner, with Federico Fernández replacing Fabrizio Coppo as Aminta. This meant that Fernández was the only dancer in that role across the week of six performances, partnering three separate ballerinas as Sylvia. His approach to the role had a noble bearing (perhaps too courtly for a lowly shepherd) and although the variations were notably cautious, his partnering was as solid as a marble column. Dalmiro Astesiano presented a muscular Orion (a hunter who stalks and kidnaps Sylvia) although he appeared rather more well-mannered than one might expect from a warrior-bandit! Nahuel Prozzi gave a commendable account of Eros, a role that begins as a statue, requiring absolute stillness for most of the first act, but provides the lynchpin around which the romantic narrative revolves; and Paula Cassano was suitably imperious as the goddess, Diana. Luciana Barrirero and Emiliano Falcone provided a finely harmonised cameo as the pair of sacrificial goats in the flirtatious pas d’esclaves (“cabras” in Spanish).
Sylvia boasts one of the great ballet scores which, although composed in the 1870s by Léo Delibes, contains many surprises, not least of which is the prolific use of the saxophone, making the composition seem years ahead of its time. It is – of course – hard to judge over the internet but the fact that I was humming several of Delibes’ rich melodies several days later suggests an effective performance by the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires, under the direction of Emmanuel Siffert.
My only real quibble came with some odd directorial choices in the live broadcast. It was unfortunate that key moments in the dance were replaced by images of the orchestra and that during the pizzicato variation, where the footwork is all-important, the camera shot panned away to focus on Giménez’s torso. Nonetheless, these minor inconsistencies did little to detract from the overall enjoyment and I still marvel at being able to sit in a remote corner of North Norfolk (where I am yet to get a mobile ‘phone signal), watching live ballet being performed over 7,000 miles away.
Excellent though the production proved to be, music, décor and dance were not the most intriguing things about the event. That priority was commandeered by the interval where the cameras were just allowed to run. Observing people wandering around the orchestra stalls, taking photos of the sumptuous interior of the Teatro Colón and just chatting to friends provided that sense of immediacy; a birds-eye feeling of being there that captured the unique atmosphere of this live event.