BRUTAL BEAUTY: An Interview with Artistic Director Robert Curran about Louisville Ballet’s New Classic, LA SYLPHIDE

Louisville Ballet Rehearsal of La Sylphide / Photo by Shelby Shenkman 2023

Louisville Ballet Artistic Director Robert Curran discusses his inspiration for creating a brand new La Sylphide for Louisville audiences. Contrasting grounded Scottish Brutalist architecture and the light, ethereal nature of Sylphs reinforces the tension between love and envy in this one-of-a-kind world premiere.

Why did you want to create new sets and costumes for La Sylphide?

Robert Curran: This production of La Sylphide is following in what’s becoming the Louisville Ballet tradition of setting the classics in a new context that’s a little bit more relevant for today’s audience. It’s really important to keep reimagining what these stories mean, what they say, and how we say them, so that they can continue to live on for centuries longer.

Can you describe the new sets? What was the inspiration behind them?

RC: When you consider the story of James and the Sylph, these two characters couldn’t be more opposite. There’s James – with all of his masculinity, his sense of obligation, his duty to marry Effie, his sense of leadership in the family. It’s very heavy and grounded and masculine. And then you have the Sylph – who’s mythical, airy. They are air sprites, Sylphs are. And she’s mischievous. She’s free.

And to contrast those two extremes – the masculine and the feminine, the kind of sense of obligation and the sense of freedom – to echo that in the scenery was my inspiration. So the scenic designs for Act I are just that: very heavy, concrete, inspired by Scottish Brutalist architecture from the middle of the 20th Century. Lots of concrete, quite gray, simple, large, big set pieces to create this sense of groundedness, permanence, and weight. And then in Act II, it’s much more colorful, free, transparent, glowing, and light to echo the two main characters. And then, of course, we have the character of Madge, who is some kind of force of gravity who pulls these two opposites together to collide in a catastrophic way.

What was the inspiration behind the new costumes?

RC: The costumes for this production take similar inspiration as the scenery. There is a sense of somberness, of weight, of heaviness in the costumes in Act I, bordering on a little bit of a sense of military, too, to keep pushing that sense of duty, that sense of obligation, that sense of responsibility.

And then actually for Act II, we have gone in a different direction than what traditional productions bring to the stage with their Sylphs. We’re really stripping it back away from that romantic tutu, the long tutu, and the bodice, and really making it much more light, much more revealing. We’re also steering away from the pink tights this year. But, of course, they still have wings!

What do you hope audiences take away from La Sylphide?

RC: Louisville should be so proud of this company: the dancers, the artists, the collaborators, the administrators, the educators.  And a ballet like La Sylphide really shows what we’re capable of doing. These scenic designs, these costume designs didn’t exist before a couple of months ago, and we’ve created them from scratch to bring this production that nobody else has to our Louisville community – to you all. I hope that you walk away from this show inspired to be creative in your own worlds – because if we can do it, so can you.

Join us for LA SYLPHIDE with Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony:
April 13-15, 2023 | The Brown Theatre | Choreography by August Bournonville and George Balanchine | Music by Hermann Lovenskjold and Felix Mendelssohn | Costumes + Set Designs by Robert Curran

BUY TICKETS ONLINE NOW or call the Louisville Ballet Box Office at (502) 583-2623.

One of the oldest existing classical ballets, set in Scotland and first staged almost 200 years ago, “La Sylphide” explores themes of love, vengeance, and envy while examining the juxtaposition between nature and modern life. With original choreography by August Bournonville and new costumes and sets designed by Artistic Director Robert Curran. This production also includes George Balanchine’s “Scotch Symphony,” the American master’s nod to the Scottish Highlands, filled with intricate footwork, a wistful pas de deux and more, all performed to Mendelssohn’s evocative score.

Louisville Ballet’s presentation of “La Sylphide” and Balanchine’s “Scotch Symphony” is generously made possible by Jim + Marianne Welch and James + Elizabeth Voyles.