La Sylphide is one of the world's best-known ballets.
La Sylphide is often confused with Les Sylphides, another ballet of similar name, also involving the mythical sylph, or forest sprite. In every other respect however, the two ballets are unrelated.
There have been three main versions:
La Sylphide opens with a scene of a young Scotsman, James, asleep in a chair by his fireplace. A sylph, or forest fairy, appears and dances before him, gazing lovingly, causing James to stir in his sleep. The sylph vanishes as James wakes up. He then awakens his friend Gurn, who was sleeping in a corner, and asks him if he saw the sylph. Gurn angrily reminds James that in a few hours he is to be married. James dismisses the incident and promises to forget it.
When Effie, James's bride-to-be, arrives with her bridesmaids, she notices his distracted manner. When she approaches him, James dutifully kisses her, but is soon distracted by a moving shadow in the corner. Thinking his sylph has returned, he rushes over, only to be startled by the witch, Old Madge, who leaps out at him. Everyone else is amused, but James is furious at the disappointment.
Effie begs Old Madge to tell her fortune, and the witch gleefully informs her that James loves someone else more than her. This only heightens James' anger, and he forcefully throws Old Madge out of the house. Effie is delighted that James would tangle with a witch for her sake.
Effie and her bridesmaids depart upstairs to prepare for the wedding, and James is left alone in the room. As he stares out the window, the sylph materializes before him and dances, confessing her love. James tries to resist, but is captivated by her ethereal beauty and kisses her. Gurn, who is hiding in a corner spying on him, immediately runs to tell Effie what he has done.
However, when he returns with the distressed Effie, the sylph has disappeared. Everyone assumes that Gurn is simply jealous of James, and the wedding guests celebrate. As James dances with Effie, however, the sylph reappears to him and him alone. She copies Effie's steps in the dance, only high in the air, and James makes a desperate effort to attend both girls at the same time. The wedding guests are confused by his strange behavior, but the ceremony is about to begin, and no one has time to question him.
Everything goes smoothly until the moment James reaches for the ring to put on Effie's finger; for this is the moment he discovers that it has been stolen by the jealous sylph. The sylph motions for James to follow her into the forest, and he obeys, leaving behind Effie.
The Act II begins with a witch' scene in the forest at night. Led by Madge, several witches are cooking a diaphanous scarf in a magic cauldron. The fog then lifts, and we find ourselves in lovely glade. James enters with the Sylphide who shows him her realm. She brings him berries and water but avoids him when he tries to catch her. To cheer him up, she calls on her sisters and the forest fills with sylphides dancing their airy dances for James who also joins in the grand divertissement.
Meanwhile, the young farmers have set out to look for James. Gurn finds his hat, but Madge convinces Gurn to say nothing. Gurn proposes to the heart-broken Effie who says yes.
When they all have left, James emerges and Madge gives him the scarf, which will bind the Sylphide to him, so she cannot fly away. James is delighted and when the Sylphide returns and sees the scarf, she is also charmed by it and allows James to place it around her shoulders.
The disaster occurs immediately. Her wings fall off and the Sylphide dies. Effie and Gurn's wedding procession is seen in the background while the Sylphide is born through the air by her sisters. James collapses lifeless and Madge exults. Evil has triumphed.