The San Francisco Ballet at the New York State Theater on Friday, July 28.
The word nymph typically invokes wispy, nature-loving little sprites, the sort of girls whom a stiff breeze might topple. We forget that in classical mythology, the nymphs of Artemis (Diana to the Romans) were mighty huntresses, defiantly independent and fiercely draconian (peeping Toms were subject to the death penalty) — nothing wispy about them.
Choreographer Mark Morris gets that right. It’s one of the few elements of his Sylvia that I will unreservedly praise, but setting that aside for now, his nymphs in Sylvia aren’t remotely pixie-ish, and that works. The titular Sylvia is particularly commanding. As played by Vanessa Zahorian, Sylvia is beautiful and womanly but not the delicate waif we see in so many ballets. Her movements, her physical presence, sometimes seem more traditionally masculine than feminine, not in the steps but in her stance and bearing. Morris’ choreography makes it clear that Sylvia is no one’s distressed damsel.