Plot & Roles
*Classical ballets have evolved over time, lending themselves to different interpretations as choreographers and directors create works that reflect their visions of the story. The following is intended to provide general information; for details on different versions, click on each of the La Sylphide performances below.
Effie: Fiancée to James
Gurn: Friend to James, in love with Effie
James: A young Scotsman
Old Madge: A witch
The Sylph: A spirit of the forest
The young Scotsman James is asleep by the fireside on the morning of his wedding today when he is awakened by the kiss of a vanishing sylph. He asks Gurn if he, too, has seen the creature, but his friend denies any sighting – and reminds James that he is soon to be married.
Despite trying his hardest when his fiancée Effie, her family, and her friends arrive, James is still distracted by thoughts and visions of the beautiful sylph that visited him earlier. He sees a figure by the hearth and believes it to be the sylph, but upon approaching it, he is disappointed to find instead Old Madge. He asks the witch to leave, but all of the guests invite her otherwise to stay and to have their fortunes told. To her dismay, Effie is informed that she is actually not to marry James, but rather Gurn, as her fiancé is in love with someone else.
Effie and her friends retire upstairs to prepare for the wedding despite Old Madge’s forecast. Meanwhile, the sylph visits James and professes her love for him. He does his best to resist, but cannot deny the feelings he has for her, too. Gurn witnesses this interaction and calls on the others to tell them what he has seen. His audience laughs him off and the wedding festivities begin.
The sylph appears again trying desperately to distract James and bring him to her forest home. She succeeds in mischievously grasping the ring that James is about to put on Effie’s finger and places it on her own. She flies away with James chasing after her. When Effie discovers that her betrothed is gone, she is distraught. Gurn, on the other hand, is pleased and leads the men of the party on a search for his friend.
Old Madge and her cohorts are concocting a magic formula in a cauldron from which she eventually pulls out a scarf that has been brewing in it.
In a sunnier part of the woodlands, the sylph and her friends dance for James, showing him their beautiful home, showering him with the sweet fruits that grow there, and refreshing him with the waters that flow through. He joins them but ultimately, they begin to flee to other parts of the forest. He endeavors to capture the one he loves, but ever-elusive, the sylph escapes him again.
Meanwhile, Gurn and the wedding guests continue looking for their friend. He finds a piece of James’ clothing, but at Old Madge’s encouragement, he says nothing about it to Effie and instead proposes to her. She accepts, considering her once betrothed as forever lost, and the search party leaves the forest.
When James enters again, he finds Old Madge there. She presents him with the magic scarf promising that if he wraps it around the sylph’s arms and shoulders, he will be able to hold it close to him forever. When the sylph appears again, she allows James to wrap the scarf around her. Unfortunately, the embrace in the bewitched scarf causes the sylph’s wings to fall causing her death. As she rises above with the help of her sylph sisters, the wedding procession of Effie and Gurn passes through, stunning James to collapse.
Old Madge solitary enjoys her triumph.
An epitome of the romantic ballet genre, LA SYLPHIDE is also one of the oldest surviving ballets. The version choreographed by August Bournonville in 1836 is still performed, most prominently by the company for which he choreographed it for – The Royal Danish Ballet.