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David Bintley on the story of Sylvia
David Bintley explains the differences between the original tale of Sylvia, and his new version which tours the UK in spring 2009.
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'Although I'd never seen anybody else's versions before I did mine in 1992, I knew that there had never been a really successful one. From what I read, even Ashton got rather side-tracked into being very, very reverential with the piece. Fred tried to do virtually the original version, with nymphs and shepherds and this fairly ineffectual and unsympathetic hero who really doesn't do very much to advance the plot.
'What I like about Fred's work is that you empathise with the characters - he draws such fantastic characters that you just want to hug, but in Sylvia that is just not the case. You don't care about them because it's a daft story and it just isn't real.
'The original story starts off in a grotto or something in ancient Rome,' David recalls, 'with various nymphs and shepherds and mythological characters. One of the shepherds is called Amynta.
'Amynta has been struck by an arrow by Eros, the god of love, causing him to fall in love with a beautiful but icy nymph called Sylvia.
'Sylvia turns up with all of her Amazon warrior minions as they've all been out hunting. She sees Amynta watching her, obviously smitten. Being so cold and unfeeling, she fires an arrow at a statue of Eros, the god of love, in defiance of any sort of affairs of the heart.
'Amynta, defending Eros, leaps in front of the statue and takes the arrow in the chest, which is fatal. Amynta dies and all of his friends mourn him. Then the real Eros turns up disguised as a sorcerer, and in recognition of Amynta's act of self-sacrifice, he brings him back to life.' David pauses, double-checking through the events in his head before continuing:
'A wicked hunter called Orion arrives, and kidnaps Sylvia, taking her off to his cave. Eros and Amynta immediately set off in pursuit. Orion makes it back to his cave with all of his friends, and he tries to ravish her, but she drugs his drink and manages to escape.
'Outside the cave, Amynta is playing a pipe in order to signal to Sylvia that he's here to rescue her; she finds him and they go off together.
'Cut to a shrine to Diana by the coast. Sylvia and Amynta turn up in a boat, and we're to assume that they've got it together. Everyone is dancing at the festival of Bacchus. Orion promptly pitches up, and he's angry because Sylvia has run away.
'He goes to the temple of Diana, and complains that Amynta as stolen Sylvia from him. Diana comes out, furious that Sylvia is in love with Amynta, because, as a nymph, she's taken a vow of devotion to Diana herself.
'In her rage she kills Orion, and is about to kill Sylvia and Amynta when Eros arrives. He points out to Diana that she herself was once in love with a mortal, Endymion, and conjures up an image of him. Diana looks at it and holds up her hands, saying 'it's a fair cop', and lets them go.
'And they all live happily ever after', says David. He pauses before adding: 'Rubbish!'
'So when I made my own version of the ballet in 1992, I originally thought "well what went wrong for the other versions, and how can we make a modern audience care about these characters?"' remembers David. 'So I decided to take a much freer approach. I wanted to make this into a sparkling comedy, like a Gilbert and Sullivan piece or a Rossini opera. It didn't even have to make much sense.
'So we jumbled up time, and had pirates straight out of Treasure Island, and had Amynta arrive in a car, and made Eros a retired old gentleman, and slung all this stuff together. And some people were charmed by it, and some people weren't, and some found it confusing.
'So I've now tried to provide more logic to what's still quite a free-wheeling, seat-of-your-pants plot - that's the main reason for this reworking. It's a dream-like logic, admittedly, but there's still a lot more logic to the story's progression!
'We start off in a garden, surrounded by Roman ruins. There is a Count and a Countess, and their marriage is pretty evidently on the rocks. However, it is their anniversary, and preparations are underway for a celebration to mark the event. The party is to be a masked ball, and everyone is selecting their costumes.
'The Count and Countess have some servants - a valet and a governess - who are in love with one another. And in one corner is their gardener, who is really Eros in disguise.
'The valet and the governess have seen the Count and Countess fight for too long, and have begun to lose faith in love. So in order to sort them all out, Eros takes them all back in time to ancient Rome. Reflecting their party costumes, the valet becomes Amynta, the governess becomes Sylvia, the Countess becomes Diana and the Count becomes Orion.
'The story changes a little more here too. Amynta accidentally stumbles across Diana bathing in a fountain. She strikes him blind, as in the Diana and Actaeon legend. Eros fires an arrow at Sylvia, one of Diana's nymphs, making her fall in love with Amynta.
'When Diana leaves, Sylvia comes back looking for Amynta. Orion turns up at this point, looking for anything in a skirt, spots Sylvia and kidnaps her.
'Eros then points the way for Amynta to follow, which he does blindly.
'Over in Orion's cave, Sylvia invents wine in order to stave off Orion's advances, and he gets really drunk and collapses. Eros arrives with the still blind Amynta. Sylvia knows that she can't deny her vows to Diana, and takes flight.
'With Eros's help, Amynta makes the arduous journey to Diana's temple, hoping to find Sylvia there. When he arrives at the temple by the sea, there is a big celebration underway, but Sylvia is not there.
'A pirate ship arrives, with a delivery of slave girls who have been brought on Diana's order, including Sylvia, who they have captured. Seeing herself back at Diana's temple, she realises that she is in a lot of trouble and begs the captain of the pirates to hide her.
'Amynta appears, Sylvia admits that she is in love with him, and they dance a pas de deux together. At the end of this, the captain of the pirates reveals himself to be Eros, and restores Amynta's sight as a reward for them admitting their love for one another.
'Orion arrives with a terrible hangover. He demands justice from Diana who kills him for defying her. She's about to kill Sylvia and Amynta because Sylvia has broken her vows when Eros steps in and stops everything.
'Eros returns them all to the Count and Countess's party at the beginning of the ballet, and the Count stumbles back in. They all have a bit of a Midsummer Night's Dream moment, shaking their heads and still in half-fancy dress.
'They realise they've all been idiots and the Count/Orion begs forgiveness for being such a philandering fool. The Countess/Diana forgives him so their marriage is saved and the servants' faith in love is restored - happy days!
'So they all learn a lesson and the whole story has a little more point to it - it's a continuation of the story, but with a heightened sense of a real world, which hopefully makes the characters much more sympathetic, and relevant to the audience!'