Sylvia, Royal Ballet, dance review: this deliriously beautiful production is a romantic's delight

Laura Freeman
A mythlogical-pastoral dream: Marianela Nuñez as Sylvia with artists of the Royal Ballet: ROH/Alice Pennefather

This revival of Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia is deliriously pretty.

The settings are a Claude Lorrain fantasy, the costumes a parade of Poussin colours. The plot is preposterous. Aminta, a shepherd (Vadim Muntagirov), loves Sylvia (Marianela Nuñez), one of Diana’s (Itziar Mendizabal) nymphs.

Sylvia, blaming Eros (Valentino Zucchetti), draws her bow and, missing the god of love, pierces Aminta thought the heart.

A mysterious peasant revives him and Aminta waits for Sylvia at Diana’s temple by the sea. “Meanwhile,” say the programme notes, “Orion [Thiago Soares] the evil hunter has also been secretly watching Sylvia…”

The story is an excuse for a mythological-pastoral dream of romantic beauty. Nuñez shimmers in moonlit sequins; Muntagirov (pictured with her) enters in the tiniest of togas. Capricorn and Sagittarius light a backcloth sky. Silver-sprayed statues come to life. Never were there such pristine peasants. The shepherdesses carry sickles and lambs like designer clutch bags.

Sylvia sails for Diana’s temple in a great barque draped in crimson velvet. There are oceans of pale yellow and blue tulle. Muntagirov, still only 27, gets better and better. He is that rare thing: a man who can out-smile the radiant Nuñez. He dances with laconic breeziness. His height and bearing are imperial and when he leaps, he goes off like a champagne cork.

Nuñez’s strength and effervescent sunniness are perfect for Sylvia: a demi-goddess from tiara to tiptoe. Soares, as handsome as Hercules, is given too little to do. He is cross, then hectoring, then sulks. A lamé kilt distracts: we see his skirts, not his steps.

Silly? Yes. But Sylvia is incomparably lovely.

Until Dec 16 (0207 304 4000,