Rachel Zakuta
      Rachel Zakuta

La Slyphide

A Ballet in Two Acts

  MUSIC     Herman Lovenskjold

CHOREOGRAPHY     August Bournonville




Scene One:  La Sylphide dances in James’s dream.


     La Sylphide has no name. Names are human preoccupations. La Sylphide does not sleep. Sleep is a human obligation. La Sylphide dances. She dances in the woods, where the wind makes the leaves dance with her. She dances in the dark, where her music shines like the sun on water. Sometimes, as now, she dances in the dreams of a human who has fallen asleep in the sylphs’ wood.

     Hers is not a human dance. La Sylphide dances the flash of the lightening and the pattern of the stars. Her dance is a dance of stillness, as well as motion, and it requires great strength, the still parts most of all. James, the sleeping human, has not the strength. His heart beats frantically and his limbs tremble.

     La Sylphide likes dancing with James. For centuries she has danced only with her sisters. She had forgotten how she appears in human dreams: slender legs, pointed toes, crystalline wings.    

     James is waking. He has trouble standing, because his heart is still straining and his limbs are still shaking. Although he is awake, he is still dancing somewhere deep inside. This is as it should be; La Sylphide is always dancing, even when she’s not.

James stumbles in the direction of the village. La Sylphide follows, unseen.

     She will dance with James again.


Scene Two:  James encounters Effie, his intended, and Gurn, his rival.


     Houses are human cages, and La Sylphide is free. She will not enter, but watches James and the other humans through the window.   

“Best of the morning,” Effie says. Then, “What’s wrong?”

     “Nothing,” James manages to stammer. “You look--you look beautiful.”

     “You look ill,” says Effie.

     Gurn enters with an armful of green boughs. He has been in the wood with his ax, hewing wedding decorations. La Sylphide cannot approve.

     James cannot hear what Gurn and Effie say to each other over the roaring of his blood. He puts a hand on the mantel to stay upright. He must stay upright, though he cannot remember how. He must be strong for Effie, although he cannot remember why. Something is wrong, he thinks.

     Gurn is whispering, “It’s not too late to change your mind.”


Scene Three:  Madge, the village sorceress, predicts Effie’s marriage to Gurn.


     La Sylphide recoils as a withered grandmother approaches the cottage. Madge stinks of human magic, magic made, not born. Fear is a human malady, so La Sylphide is not afraid. Still, she can’t bear the smell.

     Once inside, seated with honor by the fire, Madge sees with her eyes what she has already seen. James is lost, gone, dead already. All the pity in an old, battered heart cannot save him. She must try to prepare the unfortunate girl for the blow. She takes Effie’s hands, sighs, casts some herbs in the fire, smiles.

     “You will be merrily married for many a year,” she says. “To Gurn.”

     “No!” James lurches towards her, but Gurn easily holds him back.

     Poor man, there is nothing else to do, except make sure the sylph takes no others.


Scene Four:  Gurn discovers James with La Sylphide.


     Finally, James sleeps. His fogged mind surrenders to the demands of his exhausted body, and he drops into a wooden chair. Instantly he is with her, the lissome beauty of his dreams. She arches as a willow might; he supports her back. She leaps; he catches her; they fly. James does not mind his pounding heart, and he has forgotten Effie’s name. The shell slumped in the chair grows ephemeral, while the silhouette in the doorway gains definition. James and La Sylphide are one in the dance.

     Gurn, returning with an armload of hopeful flowers, sees a sinuous outline hovering on the threshold. The shimmering figure is white as new snow in morning, so bright it brings water to his eyes. He reaches his hand out to touch that loveliness, but it vanishes on contact. There is only James, by the fire, asleep.


Scene Five:  La Sylphide prevents the wedding.


     James never truly wakes. Like his ethereal bride, he is now always, always dancing. He does not understand the clothes he is made to wear, the walk he is made to take, or the words he is asked to say. These are human rituals, outside the dance. It is a relief when La Sylphide materializes just long enough to snatch the ring meant for Effie’s finger and lead him away, away.


Scene Six:  Madge seals La Sylphide’s fate.


     James stumbles through the forest. There is pain in his chest now, the pain of a breaking heart. The dance is fast, as fast as the fall of a raindrop, and he has fallen behind. La Sylphide dances with her sisters, who never tire. He can feel them on ahead, and must follow, though his pulse stutters and his muscles clench.

     Madge catches him as he falls over a gnarled root. She speaks quickly. There is no time for pity, neither for the young man nor herself, forced to play the role of the murderess. James must be an instrument of his own revenge. He must take the magic scarf she has enchanted to La Sylphide, out of love or hate. Madge must make him understand.

     Is there a man inside who grieves for what he has lost?  Is there a beast who will follow his mistress to his last breath?  Madge does not know, but James’ hand closes over the fabric. It will have to be enough.


Scene Seven: James and La Sylphide reach their ending.


     La Sylphide dances. Freed from the constraints of a human dream, she dances the rush of the river and the fall of tree. It is good to be free. But it was good to have legs and wings and fingers, too. La Sylphide will find another human to dance with, and perhaps he will want to come home to the sisters with her, and dance with them forever. The first one didn’t want to. He stopped dancing halfway through the wood, and what other reason for that could there be?  One does what one wants.

     James can hardly see the sisters as they flicker round the clearing, but his sylph shines clearer than ever, lithe and winsome as she was in his dreams, dressed in diamonds and white.

     She is his bride. He marries her with a ring of cloth.

In the dark, La Sylphide feels no fear. She feels only pain, rending, tearing pain, until the end.


Scene Eight:  Effie and Gurn begin their life together.


     Gurn is the happiest man alive. He has his Effie, and he must deserve her, for has not the whole world conspired to deliver her up?  Surely, it was like a fairy tale: the witch’s prophecy, the ghostly apparition, the prevention of an inauspicious joining, the disappearance of the rival, and the triumph of true love. Now he leads his bride from her father’s cottage, though the woods, to the village square, where there will be drinking and dancing.

     There is something in that clearing; it is difficult to see through the trees, but it almost looks like a man lying dead on the ground. Gurn quickly alters the path of the procession, angling his body so that Effie does not see.


Seeking representation for HOLOGRAM HALLOWEEN,

a middle grade SF novel.



It's up to Jake to sneak off while trick-or-treating and find an invisible crashed spaceship. Jake has never hear of a learning disabled hero. But faced with bullies, police cars, grabby aliens, poisonous air, and electro-shocking robots, that's exactly what he and his new friends will have to be!

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