Unlike Giselle, Coppelia, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, the romantic ballet La Sylphide does not boast a memorable score. Neither the music, composed by Schneitzhoeffer for the original 1832 Parisian version, nor that composed by Lovenskjold for Auguste Bournonville’s 1836 Danish staging — arguably, the best-known today — have the luscious musical palette found in the works by Adam, Delibes or Tchaikovsky. Apart from chunks of ‘borrowed’ music, which include quotations from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in Schneitzhoeffer’s work and from Rossini’s Stabat Mater in Lovenskjold’s one, both scores merely provide easily danceable, pretty, catchy tunes and a wealth of tritely conventional atmospheric solutions.
Yet it is Matthew Bourne’s intriguing approach to and ingenious ability to work with such music — the Lovenskjold version — that turns Highland Fling, a Romantic wee ballet, into one of his most interesting creations. It had its première 11 years ago, but the interaction between a wittily revised narrative, a new movement vocabulary and the old score makes it still refreshingly thought-provoking. In line with the aesthetic and artistic canons that informed other, equally successful choreographic revisitations of his, such as Nutcracker and, most notably, Swan Lake, Bourne provides a contemporary reading of the old ballet that is spicily vibrant without ever indulging in gratuitous slapstick or predictable parody. Indeed, a few things have changed since 1994 and what was presented last week at Sadler’s Wells is not the ‘wee ballet’ many of us applauded enthusiastically then.
The revised version comes across as having a more complex choreography than the old one — at least, as far as memory serves. Inevitably, the rich visual appeal detracts slightly from the biting satire of the narrative, for which the 1994 original was highly praised.