When I was a young girl, one of my favourite treats was a visit to the ballet. For this special occasion my parents my sister and I wore evening clothes. The Sayed Darwish Theatre in Alexandria, which in those days was called the Mohamed Ali Theatre, hosted some of the most admired ballet companies in the world: the Bolshoi and Leningrad, and plays from La Comédie Française.
When I was a young girl, one of my favourite treats was a visit to the ballet. My sister and I would take care dressing in our best attire, and my mother and father would accompany us on what was a treasured family outing. The theatre in our nearby town hosted some of the most admired ballet companies in the world: the Bolshoi and Leningrad, and La Comédie Française. Through the years, I saw many performances, but there was one that most stood out for me and awakened my romantic sensibilities: Les Sylphides.
What makes Les Sylphides so special is that, unlike most ballets, it has no story, no plot. It is, instead, what dance historian Olga Maynard called ‘a romantic reverie’. A troupe of dancers in white dance in the light of moon with a young man. The ballet is short, dreamy and simple, and it allows the audience to create of the romantic scene their own interpretations.
The music, by Chopin, master of Romantic music, is beautiful, and it is the fine accompaniment together with the graceful choreography that have made the ballet a worldwide favourite – so revered, in fact, that it has attracted the greatest of ballerinas, such as the Russian principal, Anna Pavlova.
For me, as a young girl, and even now with more worldly experience, the romance is bound with the magic of the piece embodied by the dancers, the sylphs. These are mythological creatures – fairies, spirits, elementals who inhabit the air, so-named for the Latin sylvestris (of the woods) and nympha (nymph). Indeed, the ballerinas are so light on their feet, it is not hard to imagine they may be beings of another realm.
In my novel, Burning Embers, Rafe tells Coral that her translucent, fragile looks remind him of a nymph from Les Sylphides, which is his favourite ballet. Such is the ability of the romance author to create sylph-like heroines and heroes who appreciate the ballet! And why not – for as the song in the musical A Chorus Line tells us, ‘Everything is beautiful at the ballet.’
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