Marie Taglioni: The private and public life of a ballet legend, told in the words of the dancer, Jodi Rose

The tag line of The Sylph says it all: “Immortality has a price tag”.

This new play written by Jodi Rose tells the story of Marie Taglioni, a ballerina who, with her father and teacher, Filippo, changed the history of ballet in the 19th century.

With his coaching and her own fortitude and determination Taglioni became a star who shone throughout Europe.

Showered with precious jewels from ardent admirers, including the Czar of Russia, her life appeared to be blessed both on and and off stage.

But fame has consequences.

After the glory comes the fall, and despite the adoration and acclaim of her dancing years, she followed the same path of every dancer who questions who they are when their dancing days are over.

Taglioni suffered more than most at the end of her career, eventually losing most of her fortune and forced to make a living in London by teaching polkas and waltzes to arrogant young women in search of rich husbands.

In Sylph, the role of Taglioni is played by Gertraud Ingeborg, an experienced actor who has the ability to carry the 70-minute play alone, interspersing the text with dancing, placing her feet in the five ballet positions, framing her face with her arms held in fifth position, and resting on a chaise longue in the manner of The Lady of the Camellias as she works on her embroidery and knitting.

Her expressive face changes from joy to despair as, on the small stage of Sydney’s Old 505 Theatre, she recalls Taglioni’s life, from her youth when she rehearsed relentlessly with her father, studied with the teacher, Jean-Francois Coulon, married her husband, Alfred, Comte Gilbert de Voisins, fell in love with a Russian lover, found support from her brother, Paul, a dancer and artist and was courted by a Russian prince, Alexander Troubetzkoy who gave her the gift of a Venetian palazzo but then turned his gaze onto Taglioni’s daughter and married her.

The set is simple, decorated only with the chaise, a small table carrying a vase of lilies of the valley, a screen to one side and a trunk.

Ingeborg’s costume is a black, ankle length dress with a corset bodice, a white tulle underskirt and a pearl necklace.

She sheds her neat lace-up boots for ballet flats, and at one point, places a wreath of flowers on her head, a headpiece resembling the one she wore in her most famous role as the unattainable sylph in the 1832 ballet La Sylphide, choreographed by her father.

As the Old 505 Theatre is an intimate space, with seating for only 60 people in the audience, Ingeborg’s expressions can be clearly seen as she switches from flirtatious to proud, from humiliation to sadness, from bravery to fear and finally to resilience.

Only once does the play become melodramatic when she remembers the tragic life of Emma Livry, her protégée, who died of her burns following a horrific accident on stage, when her white tulle costume was set on fire by the gas lighting.

The tale of Emma is accompanied by flashes of red lighting that aren’t really necessary as the story has an impact in itself.

The Sylph is not just for the cognoscenti, but a little knowledge of ballet and the Romantic age would be useful and dancers or former dancers in the audience will be interested in the way Taglioni tricked her audiences into thinking she could fly through the air in her pointe shoes and with little wings stitched to the back of her long tutu.

As Jodi Rose danced with the Joffrey Ballet and has taught ballet for many years, she has the knowledge to explain, through the script, how Taglioni took flight, trained her calf muscles to be strong enough to dance on pointe, and how she overcame her physical imperfections.

Filippo taught his stoop shouldered daughter how to hide those imperfections by leaning forward and folding her arms, palms upwards across her chest in the beautiful pose that became the hallmark of Romantic ballets such as La Sylphide and Giselle, and later, in Les Sylphides, the early 20th century homage to La Sylphide.

The Sylph was directed by the actor, Colleen Cook, who has worked with Ingeborg before and who helped Rose edit her script.

Together, the three women have brought an extraordinary life back to a place where it can best be told, on a stage.

The Sylph will run for a further five days, from 25 to 29 April.