Review: Royal Ballet - La Fille Mal Gardée at Royal Opera House

Performance: 24, 26, 28 April, 2, 4, 9, 11, 16 May 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 24 April 2012

It is impossible to write a review of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée without using words like ‘happy’, ‘charming’, ‘effervescent’, ‘fun’, ‘bucolic’, ‘pastoral’ or any others redolent of eternal spring, so I’ll get them all out of the way now. This performance of “Fille” is all those things and much more besides.

It is a ballet in which no-one dies. And unless some of the villagers caught in the Mayday thunderstorm that closes Act I develop a sniffle or two then no-one even gets ill. It is a ballet with a happy ending for everyone. Even the hapless Alain – who loses the girl – seems pleased enough to be reunited with his beloved red brolly in the final scene.

The rich experience of this opening night cast is evidenced by the fact that the principal roles are performed by exactly the same team that appear on The Royal Ballet’s 2005 DVD (which also, incidentally, includes Steven McRae as the boy that leads on the Shetland pony and Sarah Lamb as one of the villagers). As Lise, the badly-guarded girl of the title, Marianela Nuñez appears way too girlish to have possibly been dancing principal roles seven years ago. She strikes exactly the right note throughout the ballet as the headstrong, vivacious girl with a disarming smile and a melting back; it goes without saying that Nuñez is an outstanding technician but it is the sunny quality of her “rom-com” mime acting that makes her performance so exceptional. Carlos Acosta is blessed with sufficiently boyish looks to make believe that he is the young farmer, Colas, even as he approaches what many would consider to be middle age. He paces himself very precisely through the solos and in his pas de deux with Nuñez. It is a controlled, slightly understated virtuosity these days, but the technique is still impeccable and I think it is now very much the case of catch his performances while you still can. There won’t be too many more nights in this role.

William Tuckett’s Pantomime Dame turn as the Widow Simone is also richly nuanced after years of experience and his clog dance (one of several party pieces in Ashton’s choreography) is great fun. And risky, since I have never seen the Widow come quite so close to kicking one of the village girls in the jaw! It was precision timing. Jonathan Howells also returns for the umpteenth time as Alain, the simpleton son of a rich vineyard owner (Christopher Saunders) whom Simone has lined up as a husband for Lise. I’m sure that Howells can perform these jerky, comic steps in his sleep: he is certainly the prime inheritor of the role created upon the late Alexander Grant to whose memory these performances are dedicated. But, I have to reserve the accolade of Performance of the Night to Formakin Peregrine who stole the show with a bewitching delight than even just about eclipsed our Lise. I especially loved the way he pawed the stage with his hoof to signal the need for a treat – and, so far as I could see, there was no need for the bucket and shovel!

There is not likely to be so much undiluted, comic joy and romance radiating from the Royal Opera House stage for the remainder of this year. If you feel in the need for a tonic then this is certainly worth a try. If you can’t get to see this cast, then there is always the DVD…. – with the additional pleasure of seeing Steven McRae feed the pony!

Continues in rep until 16 May 2012 – with a live screening in UK cinemas of the final performance

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