La Fille Mal Gardée, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 22nd October
Frederick Ashton’s 1960 work La Fille Mal Gardée, or The Wayward Daughter, is a comic ballet which epitomises its choreographer’s style. Ashton loved romance, beauty, humour and fancy footwork and all are evident in abundance here. It tells the story of Lise as her mother attempts to marry her to a wealthy but ridiculous vineyard owner’s son. But the young daughter defies Widow Simone, determinedly seeing her poor but handsome boyfriend, Colas, until love finally triumphs.
From the opening cock and hens dance to the lyrical wedding pas de deux, Birmingham Royal Ballet performed with excellence. As the lead couple, Carol-Anne Millar and Joseph Caley were technically-adept and attractive. Both executed the choreography precisely with Millar shining particularly in her delightful Act III mime. James Barton made a pleasingly dry Widow Simone, presenting the famous clog dance with charm and avoiding slipping into a typical pantomimic interpretation of the role for cheap laughs.
But demanding most attention was Mathias Dingman as Alain, the foolish but rich umbrella-loving suitor. His interpretation of Ashton’s exaggerated movements invited a sympathy rarely commanded by the character. His Alain was not a village idiot, but instead an unfortunate young man desperate to find love and please his elders, deserving of affection rather than mockery.
Ferdinand Hérold’s exquisite score was played exceptionally by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under Gavin Sutherland’s expert baton. BRB’s only failing was in their use of Sadler’s Wells’ more than adequate stage space. With the production’s lavish scenery, it felt overcrowded and company dancers at times appeared uncomfortably squeezed in.
Originally created in the 18th Century, La Fille Mal Gardée is the oldest ballet still in regular performance today. Ashton’s version, with ribbons, dancing chickens and an adorable live pony is an ideal show for children. His Fille is a true English classic – beautiful, enchanting and tender – and just as enjoyable on the first viewing as on the hundredth.