Friday, 27 June 2014

Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014

Birmingham Royal Ballet - La Fille mal gardée trailer from Rob Lindsay on Vimeo.

La Fille mal gardée is the oldest ballet that is still performed regularly. It was first staged in the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux two weeks before the storming of the Bastille, the event that precipitated the French Revolution. In another sense it is a very modern ballet. It has no shades or wilis, no wicked magicians who transform girls into swans, no kings or queens, princes or princesses. It takes place not in some mythical or exotic land but in rural France. Normandy judging by Osbert Lancaster's backdrops, It is about a young man and a young woman in love who find a way to be together despite the best efforts of the young woman's mother to marry her off to the wealthy but in every other way unsuitable village idiot. For those who have yet to see the ballet, here's the story guide,

The version of the ballet with which British audiences are most familiar was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton in 1960 to an arrangement of the music of Ferdinand Hérold by John Lanchbery with sets and costumes by Lancaster. He created powerful roles for the lovers in which he cast Nadia Nerina and David Blair but he also created amusing character roles for Stanley Holden as the social climbing mother and Alexander Grant as the halfwitted suitor. I never saw Nerina but I did see Merle Park and Doreen Wells in the title role as well as Holden and Grant.  Ashton's ballet contains some of the best known and best loved scenes such as the clog dance and the "Fanny Elssler pas de duex".

The Birmingham Royal Ballet has taken La Fille mal gardée on a summer tour which David Bintley describes as part of a "small celebration" of the work of the Royal Ballet's founder Frederick Ashton. I caught it at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham which is a delightful building with a more than passing resemblance to the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux. The lovers were danced by Maureya Lebowitz and Chi Cao, the mother by Rory Mackay, the halfwit by Kit Holder and his dad by Jonathan Payn.

Lebowitz was a delightful Lise - witty and pretty - just like Park as I remember her.  It took me longer to warm to Chi Cao.  He is a powerful dancer and I loved his turns and jumps. But Colas has a funny side. For example he likes his drink and he's also a  bit cheeky. Chi Cao played it very straight which is by no means wrong as there are some who would like that interpretation. As for the character dancers I loved them all, particularly MacKay as widow Simone.

Leaving the theatre, everyone seemed to smile or grin. It's a feel good ballet that I have already seen many times and hope to see many times again. Nobody - not even the London Royal Ballet does Ashton as well as Birmingham. They are Ashton's heirs and they have kept their Fille very well indeed. 

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