Sylphs Supporting Sylphs: A Feminist Restaging of Les Sylphides
The ballet Les Sylphides (Chopiniana), by Michel Fokine, was created in the hyper-cisgendered world of the early 20th century. The historical gendering of this dance d’ecole brings up pedagogical considerations when restaging the work within the context of 21st century higher education. Informed by our embodied history of the work and feminist theory, we restaged and reimagined excerpts of Les Sylphides with an all female-identifying cast for a university performing ensemble. As Linda Caruso Haviland eloquently states, “There are no reconstructions of the past in the present that are ideology-free and all reconstructions construct a picture of the past that equally reflects what was and who we, as reconstructors and recontexters, are”(4). During the act of restaging, we questioned the following: How does an all female-identifying cast alter the meaning of the work? Which performative masculine actions, such as port de bras, partnering, and allegro, to include? What value does this serve the students and ballet in higher education? Diving into feminist theory, surveying the students about their experience, and wrestling with challenges of reconstruction, we posit the sustaining pedagogical value of restaging canonical works, but advocate for a fresh perspective and a sensitivity to past and present cultural values.