Review of The Joffrey Ballet’s U.S. Premiere of the full-length, female-powered story ballet, Sylvia, choreographed by John Neumeier

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By: Nora Luna Righter

To celebrate its 60 years, the acclaimed Chicago Joffrey Ballet opened its 2015-2016 season with their first ever ballet of John Neumeier’s version of Sylvia. The American premiere of its ballet Sylvia was presented at the beautiful and magnificently renovated Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

Sylvia is a masterpiece, and in 1997 (World Premiere) John Neumeier created a refreshing version of Diana, the mythological Goddess of the Hunt, and her protégé, Sylvia. This is the tale of a mythical huntress at the threshold of womanhood. Mythology is mixed with historical reference as the choreography captures the travails, passions and emotions of this adolescent into a woman. Neumeier wanted to discover the timeless essence of the story, and his inspiration was Léo Delibes beautiful musical score. Sylvia is an important ballet in the history of dance, it was first performed in 1876 in Paris, and since then has gone through several transformations and versions, still the music is as important as the choreography.

This Sylvia performance of the Joffrey’s premiere, was flawless, to start, the music was elegant and charming, like beautiful craftsmanship, you could feel that there was a lot of ‘know-how.’ You didn’t feel like attractive music was merely accompanying the narrative, it was more like the music was helping to dramatize each scene.

Sylvia is presented in two acts, we could almost say three acts, because part II has two scenes with a mini-intermission, more like a pause. Part I is about Diana’s Sacred woods and all the interaction among Diana, Sylvia and Aminta the real shepherd and the God of Love Thyrsis that appears as a mythical shepherd. In the first scene of part II, Sylvia discovers her femininity and sensuality and is overwhelmed by the memory of Diana and Aminta. After a brief pause, where some of the dancers continued performing in front of artistically partitioned curtain, there was the second scene where many years later, Aminta returns to the sacred wood, so does Sylvia, their love is rekindled as Diana watches. Diana is tempted to separate them but changes her mind, at the end is only life that steals Sylvia from Aminta. And Diana stays alone, always the eternal huntress.

At the end of the performance John Neumeier, Scott Speck, the music director and Ashley Wheater, the artistic director came out, and along with their dancers received three very enthusiastic standing ovations from a very touched and happy audience. My guest and I felt that we had been swept into a wonderful world of melodic grace and color, like choreographic poetry.


North American Premiere of Sylvia by John Neumeier

For its fall production, The Joffrey proudly presents the North American Premiere of Sylvia, a brilliant full length story ballet by internationally-acclaimed, Milwaukee-born choreographer John Neumeier. Set to music by Léo Delibes, among its themes are deception, unrequited love and obsession. Sylvia’s coming-of-age vulnerability clashes with her youthful exuberance. True love will balance these opposing forces but loss of that love will test her newfound purpose in this magnificent female-powered ballet. Neumeier returns to the U.S. for this homecoming, having honed his vision to international acclaim in Europe, leading the Hamburg Ballet as director and chief choreographer since 1973. Sylvia is presented in 10 performances only, October 14-25, 2015.






CHICAGO (September 28, 2015) – For its annual fall engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents the U.S. Premiere of the full-length, female-powered story ballet, Sylvia, choreographed by Milwaukee native and internationally acclaimed Director/Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier. Continuing Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater’s endeavor to bring re-imagined story-ballets to Chicago audiences, this program represents the first time Neumeier has been invited to The Joffrey Ballet and marks the first full-length production of Joffrey’s 2015-2016 60th anniversary season. Sylvia is presented at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, in ten performances only, October 14 – 25.

“This is an incredibly rare and special time for The Joffrey Ballet and American audiences to explore the unique choreographic language of John Neumeier,” noted Wheater. “John understands dance as a living art form, frequently updating his work in a way that resonates with contemporary audiences. In his words, ‘We are trying to make this text mean something to us today.’ The story of Sylvia is hundreds of years old, yet this production captures the humanity shared by all generations. In essence, this is a love story about an ambitious young woman and a humble man, just beyond each other’s reach. Sylvia brilliantly combines story, dance, music and visual art: a modern, though timeless, parable.”

First premiering in 1876 at the Paris Opera, Neumeier is the first choreographer to realize a modern version of Sylvia, which presents a young woman at the crossroads of adolescence and womanhood torn between strength and vulnerability, succeeding in finding true love only with the awakening of her own sensuality. Set to one of the best ballet scores in history by Léo Delibes, Sylvia sparked a renewed worldwide interest in ballet and represents an important shift in the image of women through its inclusion of strong, female leads. It was the first ballet of its kind to break from Romantic ballet conventions.

A ballet in two parts, Sylvia opens as the god of Love descends into the wood and takes on the appearance of Thyrsis, a mere shepherd. Aminta, a real shepherd, enters the sacred wood, secretly hoping to find Sylvia, Diana’s nymph. Diana and the nymph-huntresses appear in the woods to take a rest from hunting and to bathe. Sylvia and Aminta meet. Diana and the huntresses discover the tender exchanges between the shepherd and the nymph. Taken by surprise, Sylvia betrays Aminta. Left alone, Diana remembers handsome Endymion, doomed to eternal sleep. At daybreak, the shepherds, their curiosity fired, enter the sacred wood and find Endymion asleep. Love/Thyrsis is with them. Aminta’s heart is broken. He is obsessed by the vision of Sylvia.
Love feels sorry for Aminta. But he takes on the form of handsome Orion in order to seduce Sylvia. She lets herself be led on by him.

As Part II opens, Sylvia becomes aware of her femininity. She discovers pleasure. Her sensuality aflame, Sylvia is overwhelmed by the memory of Diana and Aminta. Many years later, Aminta returns to the sacred wood. Sylvia too returns to the sacred wood. They meet. Their love seems to live again for an instant. Diana observes them. She is tempted to separate them but Love disarms her. In the end it is life itself that steals Sylvia away from Aminta. As for Diana, she remains alone, the eternal huntress.

Tickets and Schedule

The Joffrey Ballet performs John Neumeier’s Sylvia Wednesday, October 14 through Sunday, October 25, 2015. The full performance schedule is as follows: Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 pm; Friday, Oct. 16 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Oct. 17 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sunday, Oct. 18 at 2 pm; Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 pm; Friday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Oct. 24 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm; Sunday, October 25 at 2 pm.

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

About the Choreographer

John Neumeier is the Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet in Germany and one of the most sought after choreographers in ballet today. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Neumeier began his ballet training in Chicago and Milwaukee, including Marquette University, before furthering his career in Copenhagen and The Royal Ballet School in London. In 1963, Neumeier joined the Stuttgart Ballet where he progressed to soloist and continued his choreographic development before becoming Director of the Ballet Frankfurt in 1969, where he created critically acclaimed interpretations of The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. In 1973 Neumeier joined The Hamburg Ballet, which became one of the leading ballet companies on the German dance scene and soon received international recognition under his direction. As a choreographer, Neumeier has continually focused on the preservation of ballet tradition, while giving his works a modern dramatic framework and has served as guest choreographer to The Royal Ballet; The Vienna, Munich and Dresden State Operas; The Stuttgart Ballet; The Royal Danish Ballet; The Ballet of the Paris Opera; The Tokyo Ballet; American Ballet Theatre; The National Ballet of Canada; The Ballet of the Mariinsky Theater; Moscow Bolshoi and Stanislavsky Ballet; and San Francisco Ballet, among many others. His latest creations for The Hamburg Ballet include Christmas Oratorio I-VI in 2013, Tatiana in 2014 and Per Gynt in 2015.

About The Joffrey Ballet

This year, The Joffrey Ballet celebrates its 60th company anniversary. Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly reflecting the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces and contemporary works.

The company’s commitment to accessibility is met through an extensive touring schedule, an innovative and highly effective education program including the much lauded Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, Community Engagement programs and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron. To learn more, visit

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of its 2015-2016 Season Sponsors and Partners and would like to acknowledge the generous support of Sylvia Production Sponsors Susan and Richard Kiphart and Audre M. Carlin, Sponsors of the 2015-2016 Season: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, NIB Foundation and Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation; Season Partners: pamella roland and Fox Ford Lincoln, Official Provider of Physical Therapy, Athletico; Official Hotel, JW Marriott; and Official Health Club, Chicago Athletic Clubs.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, please visit

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