Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I hope Peregrine likes his carrots

In Act I of the Royal Ballet's version of La Fille mal gardée the wealthy farmer Thomas produces a pony and trap for Lise and her mother. The pony is called Peregrine and in the interval it was given a basket of carrots and apples by Darcey Bussell.  Bussell told us that it has a fan club on twitter. That was something that I really didn't know and I wouldn't have found out had I not attended the HDTV transmission of La Fille mal gardée at the Huddersfield Odeon yesterday.

It wasn't the only nugget of information that I picked up. My ears pricked up when Lesley Collier told Bussell that Sir Frederick Ashton was a sort of ballerina. I can't remember exactly what she said because I was startled but I remember she referred to something in his eyes and I couldn't help thinking "how true." As it happens I actually saw Sir Frederick dance a female role - one of the ugly sisters in Cinderella with Sir Robert Helpmann - but I wasn't thinking of that. I remembered the story about his seeing Anna Pavlova in Lima as a boy. It was the event that fired his interest in ballet.  Insights like that together with the voice over with Natalia Osipova where she mentioned how she was learning how to carry her arms in the English style (something to which Collier also referred in her interview with Bussell) are some of the advantages of HDTV.

Another is the detail that cinema audiences see. Let me give you just one example.   I must have seen a dozen performances of Fille on the stage over the years including two in the last 9 months but I had never noticed the significance of the scarves until last night. At the beginning of Act II Simone picks two scarves out of a chest of drawers. Her daughter chooses the pink one at first but her mother wants to wear that and she gives her a yellow one.  During Act II Simone pops out to collect Thomas, Alain and the notary so that they can seal the marriage contract. Colas, however, has managed to sneak in to the parlour and is hiding below some sheaves of corn. He emerges and the lovers dance a pas de deux in which they exchange scarves. Colas was wearing a pink one and Simone finds Lise wearing a pink scarf and not the yellow one when she returns from her errand. It is her first intimation that something has been going on. That and the corn sheaves all over the floor rather than in the neat pile in which she had left them.

So I learned a lot of new things about Ashton's ballet in the Huddersfield Odeon that I would never have discovered in the best seats of the stalls in the Opera House itself.  In the past I have compared the Royal Opera House's transmissions very unfavourably with Pathé Live's transmissions from Moscow. The House's transmissions are definitely getting better. They would be better still if they could hire the admirable Katerina Novikova.  I love Bussell but I want to remember her as a ballerina not as a TV celebrity. That's why I can never bring myself to watch Strictly. The House should also lose the tweets though I have to say that I smiled when someone said that he would never touch KFC again after seeing the hens in the ballet.

So what of the performance itself? Steven McRae was a splendid Colas. He is a great dancer with enormous charm and humour. I've never met the man but if I did I know I would take to him. I'm much less sure about Osipova. She is also a great dancer. Her jumps are magnificent. But there are some ballets where you don't need virtuosity and Ashton's Fille is one of them. You need a sweet dancer like Laura Morera who opened the season (see The Best Fille Ever 18 April 2015) or Maureya Lebowitz whom I saw in Nottingham last year (see Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014 27 June 2014). "Is this what Ashton intended?" I thought to myself as I watched the closing scene of Act II as Lise in her wedding dress leaps jubilantly round the stage. I feel really terrible expressing even the mildest reserve about Osipova. She is, as I said above, a great dancer and in some roles such as Tatiana in Cranko's Onegin she is perfect. I know she tried last night. Though she is not a natural Lise she is still a delight to watch.

As for the other dancers, I liked Philip Mosley's Simone very much. He is a fine character dancer. Paul Kay was good as Alain too as was Christopher Saunders as his father. I congratulate Michael Stojko as the cock and each of the hens. Meaghan Grace Hinkis told us how hot and uncomfortable it is to dance in the hen suit. "It's a real workout" she added. They only have a mesh aperture in the mask for vision and that headpiece can easily be dislodged. I liked all Lise's friends. But my favourite character artist yesterday was Gary Avis as the notaire. Not so much because of his dancing (though he is always good) but for his portrayal of a country solicitor. He must have some connection with the law because he reminds me of so many of those who have instructed me over the years.

Altogether, it was a lovely evening and it has tempted me back to the Huddersfield retail park for the encore on Sunday.

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