La Fille mal gardée is one of the oldest ballets in existence. Terry Wills watched its latest adaptation.
Although not being a dedicated ballet lover in the accepted sense of the word, over the years I have enjoyed watching numerous productions performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome. These are usually the recognised ‘must see’ productions so familiar that they invariably guarantee full houses – Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and the like. But the recent and all too short five day run of La Fille mal Gard’ee was a true eye opener, well deserving to be classed among the greats.
It’s a simple story set in France but despite the main protagonists having French names – Lisa, Colas, Alain and the Widow Simone – there can be no more English ballet in the repertory. Set against a typical English background of Frederick Ashton’s beloved Suffolk, his perception of country life shines through.
Lisa, the only daughter of Simone, a widow and owner of a prosperous farm, falls in love with Colas, a young farmer. Her mother has far more ambitious plans for both herself and Lisa, namely herself coupled with a prosperous vineyard owner, Thomas, and Lisa with his son Alain.
Naturally, and inevitably, despite all her mother’s attempts, Lisa and Carlos prove to everyone that nothing or no-one would be allowed to part them. A contract already drawn between Simone and Thomas to confirm the lovers’ relationship has to be torn up as the young lovers finally win her mother’s approval.
This production had everything expected from a David Bintley production. Wonderful poetic exhilarating dancing from principles Nao Sakuma (Lisa) and Iain Mackay (Carlos) whether in solo or duets, coupled with Robert Gravenor (Alain) playing a fool and David Morse’s (Widow Simone) highly amusing respective roles.
The choreography cannot be faulted. Credit to Frederick Ashton whose unique skills shine through from the opening scene, a rooster and hens clucking and pecking for food in a farmyard, to the finale as the stage is filled with colourful harvesters celebrating a happy ending for Lisa and Carlos.
Most certainly many of the elements seen in a idyllic English country setting are a delight: Maypole dancing, swirling, ribbons interwoven in expert fashion, a heavy storm, plus a clog dance that draws reams of applause.
And what a surprise as a beautiful white Shetland pony, drawing a cart, periodically trots on stage. A pity its name wasn’t included in the programme to receive the plaudits it so deserves!
La Fille mal Gard’ee is the oldest ballet in existence and through the years has been seen in many different versions. For me it was a completely new experience and if any of the previous versions were more entertaining and enjoyable than this latest BRB offering I would be very, very, surprised.
The prolonged applause audience summed the end of a perfect evening and should this production appear on a future schedule then even if you are not a connoisseur of ballet, your enjoyment will not be hampered in the slightest. You will have seen one of the world’s finest companies producing a wonderful night’s entertainment.