Wednesday, June 13, 2012

For the love of La Sylphide

I went to the Royal Opera House yesterday. And it was one of those nights. Alina Cojocaru danced her heart out as the Sylph in August Bournonville’s masterpiece La Sylphide, and so did her real-life fiancĂ© Johan Kobborg as the young Scotsman James. They created the kind of magic that makes real life in 21st century London become one with the imaginary Scottish highlands of 1836.
Now, I have seen a lot of ballet in my life. A lot. And of course, after spending countless hours in those red velvet seats, I have an opinion about most choreographers. Nonetheless, I cringe when people ask me to pick my favorite ballet. Usually I get around it by picking a few – at least one story ballet and one abstract. However, if I were forced to single one out, it would have to be La Sylphide. In my humble opinion, La Sylphide is the brightest star among the many masterpieces that make up the Royal Danish Ballet’s Bournonville heritage. And part of the reason is that, unlike the rest of Bournonville’s works, it doesn’t have a happy ending. It is, in fact, quite tragic. Which might have something to do with the fact that Bournonville didn’t actually come up with the story himself – he snatched it from an Italian guy named Filippo Taglioni. But that’s another story. Kind of.
So what makes La Sylphide so special? Well, the choreography is timeless and gorgeous. But that can be said of many ballets. What makes La Sylphide unique is the story. The heartbreakingly beautiful love story between James and the Sylph. A tale of love that cannot be, because the Sylph is a creature of the woods, who can never be with a human. A story that, even as it celebrates its 176th birthday, still seems as relevant as ever. Not because those pesky creatures of the woods always show up at the most inconvenient of times, making weak men fall in love with them. No, it’s because La Sylphide has it all. Love – not only forbidden, but also unrequited. Doubt, deceit and despair. An ending that is not only sad, but downright destroying – and therefore never fails to make me cry.
In short, La Sylphide is that ballet. It’s the one that I would choose, if I could only see one ballet for the rest of my life. The one that I recommend, when people ask me where to start. Or, in the words of one of my favorite artists, when asked what he would do, if his career as a dancer were to end tomorrow: »I would say, let me dance La Sylphide one more time.«    
The Royal Ballet here in London ends its run of La Sylphide on Friday. But in a few months, those of you who live in Copenhagen (or are willing to shell out a bit of cash for a plane ticket or a train ride – trust me, it’ll be well worth it) will have the chance to see a very special performance of this heart wrenching love story. Thomas Lund, who is a principal dancer with The Royal Danish Ballet, will be dancing La Sylphide as his very last performance before he retires from dancing. And Mr. Lund is one fine James. Which means that I will be there with bells on. Bawling my eyes out. 

I will leave you with a few more words about this magic masterpiece:

La Sylphide is a love story. But it is also a story about disruption and temptation. And about death.   

La Sylphide is the story of the young Scotsman James. Who is about to marry the sweet, pretty and very plain girl Effy. And he is fine with that. In fact, he is looking forward to the wedding. Until the Sylph shows up. With her, temptation enters his life. And disruption. Because James truly is very fond of Effy. But the Sylph is beautiful. And enticing. And she wants James – all of him.

La Sylphide is a story about a witch named Madge. Who shows up at James’ house on his wedding day, wanting to tell his bride’s fortune. James throws her out, but only after she has declared that Effy’s future lies with another man – the young Gurn, who is watching the events from apart. And who is in fact in love with Effy.

La Sylphide is also a story about a veil. A poisonous, pink veil. That is given to James by Madge, who solemnly promises that it will help him make the Sylph his. Forever. A veil, that James, filled with joy and passion, wraps around the Sylph – and seconds later, with horror in his eyes, he watches as she trembles with pain, loses her wings and sinks to the ground. Devoid of life.    

La Sylphide is a story about revenge. And about a young man who loses everything. Because he loves. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Corporate Mumbo-Jumbo

I am currently working on the biggest project I’ve ever been involved in. Now, considering my professional life so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean very much. After all, my definition of a ‘big project’ pretty much comes down to whether or not it needs more than one office. Quite often, a shared desk will be just fine. Not so in this case – several floors in several different buildings are needed. In fact, this project is large enough to have a social media policy – albeit a somewhat unclear one – which is why I won’t mention any names. Just to be safe. However, if I tell you that I’m going to be quite busy in July and August, and that my commute will take me to East London, I’m sure you’ll be able to add things up correctly.
In many ways this project is unlike anything I’ve ever worked on. And it’s actually not because of the content. No, it seems that it all boils down to size. Amount of employees, number of offices, scale of budgets. And many of the differences leave me quite puzzled, to be honest. Why is it, that as soon as a company becomes big enough to have electronic access cards and intranet systems, things become inefficient? Suddenly they pay people to put common sense into a PowerPoint presentation and make it look like rocket science. And, even worse, they make people like myself sit through entirely too many of said presentations, resulting in confusion and self-doubt – because I seem to be the only person in the room who thinks that it is complete and utter [insert swearword of choice here]. Not to mention a waste of time. And why is it, that even though you have a lovely Outlook calendar that keeps track of all your meetings, it seems completely impossible to actually keep these meetings within the allotted time slot? What I have previously known to be poor planning or lack of time management – or simply too much chit-chat – suddenly fits into the seemingly limitless category of busy. And it makes me want to stand up and do my best Carrie Bradshaw-impression: Oh you’re so busy. You’re soooo BUSY!    
But in all honesty: Carrie-impressions, PowerPoint and Outlook aside – I am quite enjoying my brush with the corporate world. Yes, it puzzles me. And yes, it frustrates me. But more than anything, it makes me feel like we’re all playing dress-up. Like we’re pretending to be adults, throwing around all this corporate mumbo-jumbo, scheduling meetings and clattering about in high heels or pointy leather shoes. And since there is very little I can do about the things that frustrate me, I am going to embrace my corporate career for as long as it lasts. I am going to proudly dangle that access card as I pop down to the mall for lunch. I will try not to judge the poor fellow with the ridiculous PowerPoint presentation. I will do my best to keep my are-you-serious-about-this-outbursts to a minimum. And I will save the Carrie-impression for after work. Because I know, that in a few months I will return to my charming little office. I will go back to my beloved performing arts. I will enjoy the complete lack of PowerPoint presentations and corporate catchphrases. And my brief stint in Canary Wharf will become a distant memory. Oh, and in between? That’s where the real fun is. That’s when we make it happen: that tiny little event that is the sole reason for all this madness…