SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> What is the point of going up on pointe? Dancing on toe constitutes ballet’s defining image, but what does it mean beyond looking difficult and unnatural? One answer is that pointe enhances a ballet’s formal design by extending the body’s verticality, creating an illusion of perfection that symbolizes a human ideal. But pointe also can define characters, and the New York City Ballet’s Balanchine Short Stories program at SPAC Friday night displayed three ballerinas in superb performances using pointe three different ways.
In “La Sonnambula,” from 1946, a Poet (Chase Finlay) falls fatally in love with a mysterious Sleepwalker (Sterling Hyltin). To Vittorio Rieti’s score, she travels quickly on her pointes in bourrée, and though she carries a candle, she moves without apparently seeing — she herself is the true flame, enticing the Poet like a moth. She remains unobtainable, sensing his presence, stepping over his outstretched leg and eluding his circled arms when he literally bends over backward to capture her.
Pointe symbolizes the Sleepwalker’s removal from daily life—the festive party thrown by a Baron (Justin Peck) whose mistress, the Coquette (Rebecca Krohn), has designs on the Poet. Hyltin floats above the ground, aloof from these seductive but earthy doings. Striding urgently on pointe, she turns at sharp right angles, dancing in a world of beautiful geometry.
The Poet, tragically, lives in the real world, and the Baron, incited by the jealous Coquette, kills him. As the party guests watch, the…
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