Dance: Reviews
You are in:  Home > Dance > Reviews   •  Archives   •  send page to a friend
Headline Feed
Email to a friend

REVIEW: FREDERICK ASHTON'S LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE AT THE PARIS OPERA BALLET

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 OCTOBER 2012 — Sir Frederick Ashton, a choreographer of genius, was not only the founder architect of British ballet, but also the director of the Royal Ballet during the golden years of 1960 to 1970. During this period he created many works for the company, including La Fille mal Gardée, a ballet full of charm, fun, and innocence. Inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth, who wrote in her diary about the simplicity of daily life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and encouraged by Tamara Karsavina, he created a ballet of what he called an "idealized ordinariness", a "leafy pastorale of perpetual sunshine".  First staged in Bordeaux in 1789, the ballet was the first to substitute real country people instead of the perpetual princes, princess and nymphs.

The moment the curtain rises, it opens upon the countryside of Suffolk. This is not France, but nineteenth century England, with its cows, sheep and sheaves of corn. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the scenes of English country dancing and the ever popular pony and trap, so that the story itself, that of Lise thwarting her mother’s plans to marry her off to the doltish Alain, son of a wealthy landowner, to wed the lover of her own choice, is almost of secondary importance!


Paris Opera Ballet in La Fille mal Gardée
Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Photo: Benhamou

It was such a pleasure to see the ballet back on stage after an absence of only 2 years, and this time round it seemed even better than ever as the company really let itself go, enjoying every minute, Ashton’s sparkling, inventive choreography suits the Paris Opéra dancers,* noted for their ultra-rapid, immaculate footwork.

The newly nominated étoile, Miriam Ould-Braham** was a natural choice for Lise. Intensely musical, she also possesses a quick, sure, immaculate technique and dances with natural sweetness and light. But make no mistake. Exquisite and delicate she might appear, there is a mischievous streak of steel behind her sunny smile. She is out to get the man she wants, and get him she does!

Josua Hoffalt, nominated étoile himself just a short while ago, was ideally cast as Colas. He has the soft suppleness of the upper body contrasting with the strong, precise and rapid footwork, the hallmark of Ashton’s choreography. It is this unique combination which makes the british choreographer’s works so fiendishly difficult to dance, but Hoffalt accomplished the technical difficulties, the ‘Bolshoi bravura’ with elegance and ease.   Always beautiful to watch, with a long, clean, lovely line, he is gaining in strength and becoming one of the most exciting dancers of his generation.


Miriam Ould-Braham and Josua Hoffalt in La Fille mal Gardée
Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Photo: Benhamou

The lovers’ early meeting around the butter churn was gently flirtatious, a joy to watch, while the ribbon dances in the first act were full of charm. At one moment, Hoffalt balances his Lise in an attitude at the centre of the corps de ballet’s wheel of ribbons. It was quite breathtaking. And Lise’s mime scene where she imagines her wedding, as well as the future children she might have, while Colas, unbeknown to her, is present, was pure enchantment. He radiated love and tenderness when confronted with her embarrassment in being caught out. There was something very special about the pair of them, being young, fresh and spontaneous, and having the age and appearance of the characters they were dancing.


Paris Opera Ballet in La Fille mal Gardée
Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Photo: Benhamou

Alain, the rejected suitor, is possibly one of the most difficult roles of all to interpret. He is a great comic creation where it is too easy to fall into a caricature. The unfortunate Alain is a figure of pathos as well as a figure of fun and is not merely there to make us laugh; he must move the audience as well. Simon Valastro, in the role he must surely call his own, was endearing, particularly at the end when he comes running back to find his beloved red umbrella. Stéphane Phavorin as the widow Simone, never over the top, was extremely funny, and his clog dance, true Lancastrian clod-walloping, was remarkably well done.


Paris Opera Ballet in La Fille mal Gardée
Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Photo: Benhamou

"We all enjoyed dancing the work so much", I was told after the performance." Frederick Ashton is a wonderful choreographer!" It was not only Ould-Braham and Hoffalt who went home happy, it was also the cock and the hens, Lise’s friends, all the harvesters, and all of the spectators in the packed auditorium. This was indeed an evening which brought together the best of England and France!

The score, by Louis-Joseph-Ferdinand Hérold, with arrangements by John Lanchbery, was played with gusto by the Orchestre de l’Opéra National, conducted by Philip Ellis.

*Miriam Ould-Braham was nominated étoile after her first performance in La Fille mal Gardée on Monday 18 June.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.



[ Feedback | Home ]

If you value this page, please send it to a friend.

 

Copyright © 2012 Euromedia Group, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.