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TV Reviews : New Production Reworks ‘Sylphide’ Ballet on PBS

August Bournonville’s “La Sylphide,” the oldest ballet in the international repertory, comes to the “Dance in America” series in a controversial modern production tonight on PBS (9 p.m. on Channels 28, 15 and 24; Saturday at 9 p.m. on Channel 50).

Danced by the Pennsylvania and Milwaukee Ballet (two companies that united two years ago), this hour-long version of Bournonville’s 1836 classic still tells the story of a young Scottish farmer bewitched by a winged nature-spirit. But the bold, primitive sets by Susan Tammany and the brisk, forceful staging by Peter Martins prove decidedly nontraditional.

Most productions of the ballet are quaint and superficial; this one is unsentimental but serious--focusing on the archetypal Romantic conflict between illusion and reality. This time, though, the Sylph and James aren’t just sweet, dumb victims of an evil plot. From early on, we see their reckless (and soon fatal) single-mindedness, their amoral disregard of consequences.

In approach, the interpretation reflects a little of what Martins and Mette Honningen achieved in “La Sylphide” when he danced as a guest with the Royal Danish Ballet nine years ago in Chicago.

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Unfortunately, neither Melissa Podcasy (the Sylph) nor Marin Boieru (James) reach the deep sense of metaphysical tragedy that Martins and Honningen developed out of their roles. But each dances Bournonville stylishly--especially the airy jumps that look so different from Russian-style bravura.

Edward Myers makes a conventionally grotesque Madge, Lisa Sundstrom a sympathetic Effie and Jeffrey Gribler a manic Gurn.

Taped at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, the telecast is weakened by a few major editing glitches. However, veteran “Dance in America” director Merrill Brockway often deftly minimizes the restrictions of shooting a live performance.

The Pennsylvania Orchestra under Maurice Kaplow coaxes maximum conviction from Herman von Lovenskjold’s antique score and Martins himself appears to introduce the ballet--alas, during the overture.

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