Available to stream for a month for a fee of £3. For tickets and to watch click here.
Inspired by Ashton’s love of the Suffolk countryside, La Fille Mal Gardée (which translates as The Wayward Daughter) is a gem, a sunny, happy, genuinely funny work, where everything coalesces to create a joyous, life-enhancing experience.
Set on a farm and its rural surroundings, it tells of Lise, the resourceful daughter of the well-off landowner Widow Simone, who is in love with the penniless Colas. Widow Simone wants to marry off Lise to Alain, the simpleton son of a nearby landowner. Wouldn’t you know it, in the end love conquers all, not only the love of Lise and Colas, but also that of abrasive but kind-hearted Widow Simone for her only daughter.
Osbert Lancaster’s sets are a delight of colour and detail, portraying an idealised countryside, with a farmyard, plenty of haystacks, and even in one scene a maypole with streams of colourful ribbons with which the dancers trace intricate patterns.
Ashton’s delicate humour is clear from the very beginning. The curtain goes up as dawn rises and the henhouse comes to life, with dancers kitted out as rooster and hens performing a lively little dance. I defy you not to smile… or even chuckle.
Later, a real white pony is brought on: Peregrine, a veteran of this ballet, is always a hit with audiences. He pulls the cart with great panache, misbehaving only occasionally.
Ferdinand Hérold’s score is full of hummable tunes, as well as touches of humour and some dreamy lyrical passages for the love duets.
Of course, all this would count for very little without good dancing. In this recording, Lise is danced by the Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova. Although the intricacies of the Ashton style don't come naturally to her, she throws herself into the role with commitment and not a little artistry. Her partnership with the virtuoso Steven McRae as Colas fizzes with humour and affection.
The choreographer determined that Widow Simone should be danced en travesti, but hitting the right tone is not easy: Widow Simone is not a pantomime dame (although inspired by the old English panto tradition) much less a drag queen. She must be amusing, not ribald, and simultaneously endearing. In this recording the role is danced by the Royal Ballet veteran Philip Mosley.
In short, you couldn't ask for a better ballet to lift your spirits in the depths of our lockdown winter.
ROYAL BALLET PRODUCTIONS STILL AVAILABLE TO WATCH VIA THE ROH WEBSITE
• Marguerite and Armand (2017): available until Sunday 14 February, £3
Frederick Ashton's intensely moving distillation of the doomed love affair between a Parisian courtesan and her younger lover, set to Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor, this emotional performance marks the retirement of principal dancer Zenaida Yanowsky after a glittering career with the Royal Ballet. Her Armand is the dashing Italian Roberto Bolle.
VIA BBC iPlayer
• Royal Ballet All-Star Gala: available for 11 months
The Royal Ballet's thrilling return to the stage in October showcases the whole company in a programme of extracts from some of the best works in the repertoire, ending with MacMillan's colourful ragtime piece, Elite Syncopations.
|What||La Fille Mal Gardée, The Royal Ballet online|
|Where||Online | MAP|
29 Jan 21 – 26 Feb 21, 19:00 Available for 30 days after first stream Dur.: 2 hours approx