Boston Ballet is concluding this season with an August Bournonville bill anchored by the title ballet, which the Danish master created in 1836. “La Sylphide” is a dark tale of love and revenge, and though it’s one of the oldest classics in the ballet repertory, it’s also one of the most psychologically complex and rewarding. But its two acts run just over an hour, so the company is fleshing out the program with a set of “Bournonville Divertissements.” Thursday at the Boston Opera House, Misa Kuranaga was a fabulous Sylphide, but she had to share honors with María Álvarez as Madge.
Boston Ballet might have served up the “Divertissements” as a Bournonville dessert; instead the company chose to make them an appetizer. Seo Hye Han and Junxiong Zhao led off with a graceful, gracious performance of the Pas de Deux from “Flower Festival in Genzano,” epitomizing the light, buoyant Bournonville style. Han was remarkable for the speed and clarity of her beats, Zhao for his elevation and soft landings.
Isaac Akiba and Irlan Silva followed in the brief “Jockey Dance,” an athletic piece from Bournonville’s “From Siberia to Moscow” where the two jockeys spoof Great Britain’s love of horse racing. Brandishing their whips at each other, Akiba and Silva competed good-naturedly.
For a closer we got the Pas de Six and Tarantella from the last-act wedding of “Napoli,” Bournonville’s salute to Naples. The Pas de Six actually has seven dancers; Thursday’s cast — Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Ji Young Chae, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Paul Craig, and Patric Palkens — was, again, Bournonville courtly and communal. The tambourine-saturated Tarantella, reinforced by an ensemble that included Han and Zhao, was even better, with flirtatious couples pairing off in anticipation of future weddings.
Boston Ballet hasn’t staged “La Sylphide” since 2007. Set in Scotland, the story finds young James torn between Effie, whom he’s about to wed, and a woodland fairy, the Sylphide, who appears to him and begs him to run off to the forest with her. James’s situation just gets worse when witchy old Madge slips into his castle to get warm and predicts that Effie will marry her other suitor, Gurn. James orders Madge out; she vows revenge.
In act two, James chooses the romantic dream over domestic bliss, following the Sylphide into the forest. The dream doesn’t appear to include sex, however. James’s solution is a shawl offered him by Madge. The Sylphide is delighted, but when James places it on her shoulders and tries to embrace her, she dies. Effie marries Gurn, and James swoons as the Sylphide’s corpse is borne aloft and Madge mocks him. Does Madge predict James’s downfall or cause it? If he had kissed her, would she have turned into a beautiful princess?
Thursday’s fine cast included Derek Dunn as a boyish, persistent Gurn, Dalay Parrondo as a sweet, innocent Effie, and Yocum as a stalwart, slightly stiff James.
Kuranaga’s Sylphide was ethereal in her back cabrioles and ronds de jambes but dead serious in her love for James. Caught between the Sylphide’s fairy nature and wanting to be real for him, Kuranaga gave gravity to what can be a lightweight role.
As for Madge, it’s a character part that’s been done in drag and is sometimes comedic. Álvarez was practically heroic. Angular in movement, astonishing in energy, her eyes flashing malevolent glee, Álvarez acted as if Madge deserved to be the title character. In Thursday’s performance, she just about did.
“La Sylphide” and “Bournonville Divertissements”
At Boston Opera House, through June 10. Tickets $35-$174. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.orgJeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.
An earlier version misidentified one of the dancers in the “Napoli” Pas de Six.