La Fille mal gardée
London, Royal Opera House
27 September 2016
Interview with Laura Morera & Vadim Muntagirov about dancing in La Fille mal gardée (Jann Parry, 2015)
Gallery of pictures (Choe/Zucchetti cast) by Dave Morgan
Early arrivals for the opening night of the Royal Ballet’s autumn season could watch Peregrine the pony being escorted to the stage door in readiness for his role in La Fille mal gardée. He enters the Opera House like any other artiste, now that the scenery dock is no longer available as his green room. Rebuilding work along Bow Street has disrupted his routine, as it does that of Opera House regulars.
Formakin Peregrine, the successor to Lise and Snowball, also tours with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Fille, so he knows the music well. Impatient with the slow tempi of Barry Wordsworth’s conducting on Tuesday night, he performed impeccable pas de cheval as he crossed the stage with the pony trap before the harvest scene. Then he evacuated his bowels in the newly-scythed barley field. The obliging shit-shoveller (a role entrenched under that name in Royal Ballet backstage tradition since the ballet’s creation in 1960) received enthusiastic applause for his efforts.
Although there were a few hitches on the opening night, the audience willed the performers to succeed. Laura Morera as Lise, Vadim Muntagirov as Colas and Paul Kay as Alain have the gift of radiating happiness on stage. Muntagirov’s smile is as sunny as Colas’s yellow breeches, his legs as long as Peregrine’s are short. Kay’s Alain is an optimistic innocent, never downcast for long. Morera is open and generous in the outflung effacé positions in Ashton’s choreography for his high-spirited heroine. She also brings emotional gravitas to her love for Colas, responding to Muntagirov’s heartfelt wooing of her in their pas de deux.
Morera understands how cleverly Ashton made use of pauses to let feelings register, and how wittily he enables Lise to play with the music in her solos – especially in the Fanny Elssler pas de deux (to music from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore). When there was a problem with a lift in the pas de deux in the harvest scene, Morera covered it up, unfazed. When Muntagirov took extra care for the one-hand lift that ends the pas de deux, both beamed in triumph as the audience applauded ecstatically.
Muntagirov rejoiced in his multiple turns as the expression of his head-spinning ardour for Lise. Colas is allowed to show off, whereas Lise’s speedy choreography reveals aspects of her personality rather than the dancer’s virtuosity. Morera doesn’t exaggerate, which is a pleasure in a production that tries too hard for comic effects. It has grown coarser over the years, as videos of earlier versions testify.
Thomas Whitehead’s Widow Simone is too harsh a pantomime dame, softening only belatedly towards her wayward daughter. Gary Avis’s Thomas behaves vulgarly towards her, goosing her petticoats. Kay’s Alain, though lovable, dances too acrobatically for a dim-witted yokel, his pratfalls obviously prepared. When he waggles his hips before conducting the harvesters with the flute he has appropriated, he is overtly soliciting laughter. Colas’s kisses along Lise’s arms after her ‘private’ mime scene are crassly signalled instead of sweetly erotic. Some of this crudeness has crept in during revivals since Ashton’s death. Some is due to distorted playing of the music, which overdoes every barnyard effect and underlines every comic moment as ponderously as an animated film score. John Lanchbery’s arrangement of Hérold’s (and several other composers’) music is hardly great stuff, but it needn’t be quite so laboured. That the ballet survives so joyously, none the less, is a credit to all the dancers and the array of coaches credited in the cast sheet: Alexander Agadzhanov, Christopher Carr, Ricardo Cervera, Lesley Collier, Jonathan Howells and Roland Price, as well as ballet mistress Samantha Raine. George Gold is responsible for Formakin Peregrine.