La Fille mal gardée
London, Royal Opera House
16 April 2015
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan (Osipova, McRae cast)
Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée is back on stage in London and all is good with the world. Really good. Think of a cat with cream, double it and you get near to how I felt at the end of its 2 acts. Romantic comedy it might be, but it touches the soul.
Fille tells the uncomplicated story of a prosperous widow, Simone, trying to marry off her daughter, Lise, to Alain, the son of equally prosperous vineyard owner (Thomas). But the son is simple and the daughter is in love with another boy – Colas. How can the parents be thwarted and true love win out? Well we all know it’s going to end happily but it’s Ashton’s genius to embroider what is often cartoon-like action with human nature and rich diversions like dancing chickens, amazing things with ribbons, Peregrine the hoofing pony, a stunning clog dance and more. It’s all well supported by John Lanchbery’s hummable orchestration (sparkling playing from the pit under Barry Wordsworth) and Osbert Lancaster’s charming and witty pen-wash designs. For me Fille is Ashton’s best full-evening work – it never misses a beat, which can’t be said of his other such ballets, even Cinderella. Fille effortlessly mixes ballet high art with pantomime and real characters we care about and want the best for.
Our performance was blessed with one of the best Widow Simones I’ve seen – Will Tuckett, raiding the great musical hall/pantomime dames of the past and pitch-perfect rapport with the audience. I just loved the way he played with the end of the clog dance – nothing choreographed in that and pure comic inspiration. A performance up there with those of another English choreographer – David Bintley (now director at Birmingham) – who alas seems to have hung up his clogs. Paul Kay was the simpleton Alain and while he was very comfortable with the steps and much of the comedy he couldn’t fall down some stairs if his life depended on it. Time will perfect. But Fille shines regardless of such occasional vagaries.
The leads were Laura Morera and Vadim Muntagirov, he making his debut. Muntagirov is a considerate partner and without artifice looked the smitten young farmer lucky enough to snag such a girl as Lise. It’s a role that needs a little more acting than the classics in which he so excels but it was a fine first performance and his clean jumps and solos pleased many. Morera, like Tuckett as Widow Simone, had the audience in the palm of her hand – such a fine sense of comedy and the steps were all nifty and good. No grand ballerina, thank goodness, but a girl who happens to be very, very good at dancing and I liked her rounded interpretation of Lise. So often she is shown as an overly feisty girl who makes her abhorrence of Alain known to all from the off, but Morera smiled sweetly and did her best to please mother and all – all the time knowing that in Ashton’s sunny world things would turn out good for her. Well things turned out good for us all.
We don’t give stars but if we did this would get 5. Not to be missed.