Australian-born choreographer Stanton Welch has built on the simple 1876 scenario of a nymph called Sylvia who falls in love with a shepherd, sparking a series of adventures among gods and mere mortals.
In Welch’s version, the heroine has been multiplied by three – Artemis and Psyche as well as Sylvia – and the story made so complicated that the AB has colour-coded the triple strands in its online and printed program introductions and provided a detailed synopsis on its free cast sheet.
In a way, following the story doesn’t really matter – the final scenes sort it out – but the concept gives an idea of the grandiose vision behind this three-act ballet. Stripped of its pretensions, it comes down to a series of striking solos and duets highlighted by impressive virtuosic lifts, punctuated by energetic ensembles in crisp classical style.
The dancing on opening night was uniformly good, with a supporting character all but stealing the show. The warrior nymphs, in shapely body armour and curiously unattractive leggings, battle with bows, arrows and swords. The fauns jump and wiggle their hips with animal abandon. Cardboard characters come and go smoothly.
As Sylvia, Ako Kondo creates a strong personality and dances exquisitely. She has a memorably expressive solo as well as the ballet’s best duet, partnered by Kevin Jackson, who is an amusingly naive and technically sophisticated shepherd.
As Psyche, Benedicte Bemet has a sweetly extrovert role that she dances with glee and skill. She is also blessed with a vivid partner in Marcus Morelli as Eros. His dancing, often in fast gymnastic solos, is the most exciting of the night.
As Artemis, Robyn Hendricks has less to do, but does it well, partnered expertly by Adam Bull in the role of Orion.
The principals are joined in the final scenes by the shepherd in old age, surrounded by grandchildren – and played by the AB’s artistic director, David McAllister, in a nicely judged low-key cameo that earned its warm applause at curtain call.
Though by that time, McAllister had disappeared from the action and Jackson had reappeared – re-costumed – as the shepherd in his youth, given demi-god immortality to partner his Sylvia eternally, a status already bestowed on Psyche so she can stay young forever with Eros. Even Artemis and her beloved Orion, whom she had accidentally killed, are reunited for eternity. It is, indeed, a complicated tale.