Posted by: viewfromtheriva | March 29, 2017

Split Ballet’s La Sylphide–dreamy Ekaterina Kuznjecova and dazzling Ivan Boiko

We get excited every Spring when the new season begins here in Split at the HNK national theatre.  This month its superlative ballet company began its season with La Sylphide, one of the world’s oldest ballets, first performed in 1832.  The version by August Bourmonville, dating to 1836, is the one that still survives today.  It’s been performed all over the world and its two main characters, a winged nymph and her entranced suitor, have been danced by the best–including a turn of the century Ballet Russe production with Anna Pavolova and Vaslav Nijinsky.  Imagine watching them dance surrounded by spectacular sets designed by Leon Bakst with music by Chopin!?

Irina Caban Bilandzic was supposed to dance the title role tonight, but was sidelined with an injury.  Sitting in the orchestra just two rows ahead of us, she was still as beautiful as ever.  We had especially selected this performance because we love her work and paired with the always fabulous Ivan Boiko, of course we got the best seats we could!

Ekaterina Kuznjecova was more than lovely as La Sylphide

In her place was Ekatrerina Kuznjecova, one of four soloists chosen to perform the role of the nymph this season.  Tall, elegant and inspired, like so many gifted Russian dancers, she was completely engaging with gorgeous technique.

The set and costume design by Mikael Melbye, a celebrated Danish opera director, designer and painter whose global career has earned him a knighthood, was beautifully executed by the HNK team–a baronial Scottish manor house (in one scene, the nymph steps delicately into a massive open fireplace and ever so slowly disappears up the chimney standing up!) and a deliciously spooky forest.  The subtle lighting by Srdan Barbaric helped illuminate both the magic and the mystery.

The story line for La Sylphide is simple….a young Scottish lad is entranced by a winged nymph at the same time he is to be married to a local girl.  An evil witch makes sure that doesn’t happen and in the end, both the he and the nymph fall prey to witchery and the ballet ends sadly with their deaths.

Sounds downright grim, yes?  But with all those lovely nymphs in the corps de ballet, which included a quarter of under 12 dancers, fluttering about to lively Scottish tunes…..Ivan Boiko’s soaring leaps and terrific dancing (the number of beats when he jumped was stunning), matched by the grace and en pointe magic of Ekaterina Kuznjecova was more than enough to chase away the tragedy sure to come.

And I have to lavish special praise on the witch, played normally by male leads, but tonight by Snjezana Radica with such malevolence and manic glee I was sure “she” was a man until the curtain call.  This is not a dancers role, per se, but just as demanding because wordlessly the character needs to weave his spell from his first appearance on stage.  Assuming the innocent pose of a poor, hunched over beggar seeking a warm fireplace in the manor house he eventually reveals himself to be a full blown demonic –at one point, presiding over a boiling cauldron bent on the destruction of two innocents.  Ms. Radica’s transformation was mesmerizing–in one scene, with gesture alone,  she literally commands the proud hero into submission.  And although Ms. Radica didn’t have to dance, her movement on stage was deft, compelling and enormously powerful.

With such marvelous international dancers, especially those Russians, I’m just surprised HNK doesn’t take this company on tour so the rest of the world can see how fortunate we are in a town of just 200,000 to have a ballet that would be cheered even in Paris.




  1. I read your piece with great interest. There is no doubt about race being the central fact in American life (as being a Sunni or Shia is central to the Middle East). You are right about America’s history from the Indian through slavery to the new immigrants, but this election brought to an apotheosis in the figure of Donald Trump something that has been festering since the Sixties and first tapped by George Wallace and Richard Nixon—Now everyone is a victim and Trump used that reality with surgical skill.

    In 1955 whites didn’t hate blacks because they were getting a “better deal.” They hated them because they were black and belonged at the bottom of the heap. In contrast in 2016 Trump and his supporters told white working class voters they had been victimized by affirmative action, racial preference and especially by a black president who hated them and hated America. Obama and Clinton made trade deals that took their jobs away. They created regulations designed to take their jobs away. They created programs designed to favor everyone else over them. Trump told them it was time to take back their country.

    But it was not just white working class voters who were made to feel victimized in 2016.

    Corporations were victims of a punitive tax policy (“the highest in the world”) even though only stupid companies pay anything near the nominal rate. They were also victims of a nanny state that puts too many restrictions on free enterprise.

    Gun owners were victims of a president who wanted to take away their 2nd Amendment rights and confiscate their arms.

    Christians were victims of policies by a president they believed were being promulgated by a Muslim president an active supporter of terrorist organizations. Their religious freedom was systemically being taken away (the right to refuse service) while sin (LBGT) was being celebrated in the White House.

    The super rich were victims of confiscatory tax policies and politics of the left that demonized them. In short they were victims of “class warfare.”

    Politicians on the right in general were victims of a biased media that indulged in “fake news” to attack, ridicule and, ultimately, delegitimize them.

    As the left learned in the 70s victimhood is powerful. But the left’s constituency –the poor, LBGT, immigrants, wasn’t enough this time. Trump just outflanked them and kicked the shit out of them.

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