Joffrey’s “Sylvia” Ballet Review – Operatic Affect, Singular Choreography

Temur Suluashvili (Eros aka Cupid) with Elivelton Tomazi, Raul Casasola, Stephen Goncalvez and Hansol Jeong


Choreographer John Neumeier knows how to tell a tale.  



“Sylvia” is a story ballet that, unlike others claiming that descriptive, really does convey a narrative.  More, we meet characters in the story and watch them evolve as one expects in a best drama.


April Daly and Fabrice Calmels


Consider the opening of Sylvia’s last act--


With a pathos evoking Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp persona, flawless Joffrey dancer Yoshihisa Arai begins dancing a memory of his prime for puppy love solo that we had seen him perform in the first act of Sylvia. 


Yoshihisa Arai


Then as this echo of the earliest musical themes of Delibes’ score continues, the one-time nymph huntress of Diana’s pack who had fallen for this mere mortal appears, the title role Sylvia danced by April Daly.  She has a regal bearing and like Aminta has graying hair.   


Yoshihisa Arai and April Daly


With movements that are at once quirky and graceful these two re-create the joyous pas de deux of their first love born in the forest so many moons before.  


Every moment in Sylvia comes across this way.   Perhaps that’s why it comes as no surprise to listen to the Joffrey dancers in this video speak of Neumeier’s emphasis to them of becoming the characters that they dance.



Come to “Sylvia” expecting to be moved and wowed in a similar way that you expect from a grand opera.


Christine Rocas and April Daly



Leo Delibes’ sumptuous music is made all the more so by Neumeier’s choreography that plays with syncing to the score at times while in other moments accentuating it through counterpoint.



If you have seen a David Hockney opera set you may also end up thinking he should emulate the more-Hockneyesque set design in “Sylvia” by Yannos Kokkos,



April Daly (laying down) and Victoria Jaiani


April Daly and Victoria Jaiani


who also gives us Met or Lyric Opera-quality detailed costumes—from lush velvet gowns to short leather vests and oversized quills for the Amazon huntresses in the forest. 


Artur Babajanyan and Mahallia Ward


If you can break for a moment from the swept away feelings that this ballet evokes, take time also to admire the masterful lighting design by Neumeier that does so much to convey the changing tapestry of affect in the story.


Temur Suluashvili and April Daly


That turns out not be be so easy—i.e. breaking your emotional involvement to “Sylvia” for a more cerebral observation.  With the aid of Joffrey Dancers executing Neumeier’s choreography with feelings that seem to come not just from their physical core but from their very souls--Soloists:   April Daly as Sylvia; Yoshihsa Aria as Aminta;


Yoshihisa Arai as Diana



Victoria Jaiani as Diana; Temur Sulashvili in three roles of Eros/Thyrsis and Orion; and Fabrice Calmels as Endymion and dozens of dancers in the supporting corps de ballet roles.


Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmel


The dance action begins even before the curtain rises, as several dancers presage movements from the first act, including the amazing Fabrice Calmels doing a one-hand hold of a dancer in pose with an effort that suggests he is simply holding something with the weight of a dish towel.


The huntresses


That they start in the box seats is a thrill, but it is the grand leaps akin to usual male dancer moves done with ballerina type finesse that makes Diana’s Amazon huntresses as imagined by Neumeier so engaging.


On opening night there were spotty flaws in the dance execution here or there, but to no major ill effect. 


Bravo to The Joffrey Ballet for bringing Midwestern native Neumeier back to his roots and giving Chicago the chance to appreciate his genius.




Performances of “Sylvia” continue through October 25 Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago.


Single tickets are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787, or online at




Photos:  Cheryl Mann














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