Laugh-out-loud comedy is a rare find in dance, which usually elicits no more than a polite, awkward titter. However it is such comedy that is one of the chief merits of this ballet. La Fille Mal Gardée is as anxious to show off bad dancing as it is to show off the good, pleasing the audience with all manner of buffoonery.
The ballet’s opening gives me a childish thrill. A clutch of chickens and their pompous rooster-ringleader perform a joyfully inelegant dance, bobbing and flapping around. Thankfully they continue to appear throughout the evening.
The life of the piece is the result of some fantastic acting. William Tuckett gives a pantomimic portrayal of the mother, Simone, resplendent in polkadots and later garish green and yellow. He demonstrates an acute comic timing and presence. Marianela Nuñez playing type as the wayward heroine Lise, warms the audience with her genuine smile, its authenticity is a world away from the pained expressions ballerinas often wear. Acosta as her secret lover Colas is as charismatic as always and Jonathan Howells plays Alain, the ridiculous and clown-like suitor, with suitable stupidity. The corps too are bright and cheery.
La Fille Mal Gardée is an uplifting story of young love. Lise has fallen for the lowly farmer Colas. Unfortunately her widowed mother offers her hand to the rich but oafish Alain who attempts to woo his newly betrothed. His clumsy moves and awful flute playing do not succeed in gaining her affections which still remain firmly with Colas. Simone, the mother, holds her daughter under house arrest to keep her in check but fails to stop Colas from sneaking in. After an embarrassing episode in which Lise dreams of married life, unaware that Colas is watching, the two declare their love once more and Colas runs off to hide in Lise’s bedroom to escape discovery by Simone. Aware that Lise has been misbehaving Simone unwittingly locks her in with her lover in the bedroom. Alain and his father soon arrive with a marital contract. Simone signs it and hands the bedroom key to Alain so he can meet with his bride. Of course the door opens to reveal the two lovers and Alain and his father leave heartbroken. After much persuasion by all the town folk Simone forgives her daughter and presumably everyone lives happily ever after.
Despite its French origins, this version of La Fille Mal Gardée is as British as ballet gets. It features an array of native folk dances including clog, maypole and stick dancing - I was half expecting a hobby horse to complete the line up. Choreographer Frederick Ashton is the man chiefly responsible for the creation of the English style which he left in the able hands of the Royal Ballet who continue to care for it.
All elements of the staging contribute to the light-hearted and farcical ballet. Osbert Lancaster creates a cartoon-like set and backdrop that looks as though it’s been taken straight from a children’s story book. As does the music, a mish-mash of music arranged by John Lanchberry from a score by Ferdinand Hérold which in turn was based on a selection of popular tunes and themes used in the original choreography.
Ashton's choreography brings alive this storybook village, from its dancing hens through to the merrymaking locals round the maypole. There are joyous ensembles, characterful solos (Widow Simone's clog dance is always a favourite) and romantic pas de deux of the most engaging kind.
The wonderfully colourful sets and costumes and the tuneful music by H?rold ? conducted by the Royal Ballet's Music Director Barry Wordsworth ? adds to a treat that will appeal to all ages and all enthusiasts for the delights of dance.
PLEASE NOTE: On 16 May the performance will be relayed live around the world as part of the cinema season. Cameras will be present in the auditorium.
Royal Opera House, Covent GardenBow Street Covent Garden
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2E 9DD
Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes