During the Easter holidays, I managed to drop by the wonderful city of Buenos Aires where the local company, Teatro Colon’s Ballet Estable had just started a new ballet season under director (and former ABT star) Paloma Herrera. On the bill was Sir Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia, which had entered the company’s repertory in 2015. For this revival, Herrera had even brought a notable guest in ABT principal Isabella Boylston.
Herrera’s appointment signals change, and a way to boost dancers’ morale (there are reports they had been unhappy with the previous AD). It is interesting to note that Argentina breeds amazing dancers who then usually leap into a career abroad (Julio Bocca, Herman Cornejo, Marianela Nuñez, Ludmila Pagliero and even Herrera herself), given the country’s social economic instability and its impact on the arts scene. But Teatro Colón remains one of the most impressive, most beautiful theatres in the world, with a 2,400 capacity auditorium, plus opulent foyer and hallways to rival Palais Garnier. Against this contrasting backdrop, Herrera’s mission is to raise the company’s profile, and to develop in-house stars.
The last time I had seen Sylvia was at the Royal Ballet’s 2010 revival, so I was a bit rusty on the details, but I noticed the staging followed ABT’s format, with one interval and a short intermission between Acts II and III, which makes for better pacing. Delibes’s prelude is always striking and the theatre’s acoustics (The Colon is considered one of the 5 best concert venues in the world) made it a double treat.
The performance I saw featured principal dancers Nadia Muzyca (Sylvia) and Federico Fernández (Aminta). Muzyca, a petite ballerina with expressive eyes, was at her best during the final act, breezing through the intricate turns and footwork in Sylvia’s fiendish solos (those pirouettes!). Fernández, tall and with long proportions, offered an assured entrance, light jumps and distinguished adagio work, in a danseur noble role that I find narrow in scope. However, their chemistry never really took off; their starkly different proportions making it hard for me to buy into the romance and partnership. I thought Muzyca was actually better matched with Dalmiro Astesiano, who looked impressive as Orion, commanding attention whenever he was on stage.
As I watched the Argentinian dancers try their best at Ashton’s placements and subtle style (dancers were committed to their roles and never looked awkward. with Georgina Giovannoni particularly impressive), I was reminded that I do have some issues with the ballet itself, which could work much better as a condensed version, rather than as the 2004 full-length reconstruction staged nowadays (think Arcadia-based Sleeping Beauty/Corsaire mashup).
I’m not sure what was cut in 1967 when Ashton reworked Sylvia as a one-act ballet, but if I could see Act I sans the “village people” and the last pas de deux, I’d be much happier. Having said that, when the curtain opened on those grandiose Robin Ironside designs, it dawned on me that there might be no better place to watch such an opulent showcase of vintage ballet than on this historic stage.
Pro tip: For pre-theatre nibbles, head over to the Petit Colón, a quaint little cafe in the corner of Lavalle and Libertad.