It is the story of country girl Lise and the strapping farmer Colas, young lovers kept apart by Lise’s mother, the Widow Simone. The Widow has bigger plans for Lise, wanting to marry her off to Alain, the landed, but rather simple, son of a gentleman.
Ashton’s choreography draws heavily on English folk dance, adapting the vigorous steps for pointe shoes and pas de deux. The results include a maypole scene in which Lise becomes the centre, turning on a single toe as her fellows hop merrily around her, and a clog dance by Widow Simone. Indulging his couple, Ashton provided lots of pas de deux between Lise and Colas, all full of boisterous lifts and snatched embraces. The pretty pas de ruban, danced with a long pink ribbon with which the couple play cat’s cradle, is particularly tricksy.
Widow Simone – always danced en travesti - is a classic pantomime dame, best captured recently by a hilarious Will Tuckett. Ashton created works for the music hall as well as the ballet, and the naïve and awkward Alain is a gloriously vaudeville fop.
Lise is a spunky creature, unimpressed by the gentleman suitor obstructing her lusty farmer, and stomping her feet in an utterly charming tantrum when she can’t get her paws on him. No-one at the Royal carries this off as beautifully as Marianela Nunez, the foremost interpreter of the role since another great Ashton interpreter, Leslie Collier, in the early 1980s. She combines her lovely, feathery feet and youthful spring with huge flirtatious eyes and a mischievous smile. In the past she danced this role with Carlos Acosta to general delight, so we wonder who step into the illustrious vacancy.
Steven McRae has recently carved a memorable space for himself in the role of Colas, fizzing with character and spry energy.
We might expect comedy to endure less well than tragedy in ballet, given all the brilliant but dark endings in the best-known works. But Ashton’s jolly Fille is in fact one of the oldest, first appearing in 1789 and said to be based on an engraving of a young lass caught with her lover in a hay barn.
Above all Fille is a love affair with the English countryside, inspired by Ashton’s own Suffolk home. Designs by Osbert Lancaster capture the sunny, hay-scattered farm, and costumes bloom with flowers and bright, swishing skirts. And watch out for the cute real-life pony brought on to pull the cart taking the lovers to the May celebrations.
If ever there was a ballet to reminisce over vanished summer, this is it.
|What||La Fille Mal Gardée, Royal Ballet|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
27 Sep 16 – 15 Oct 16, Matinees on the 29th, 30th and 15th
|Website||For more information from ROH, click here|