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

Performance: 30 September - 22 October 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 30 September 2016

The Royal Ballet 'La Fille Mal Gardee'. Vadim Muntagirov as Colas & Laura Morera as Lise ©ROH, 2015, photo: Tristam Kenton

Performance reviewed: 30 September

Dear Peregrine. Nineteen years-old and still getting excited on stage, although on this occasion there was no need for anyone to shovel up his poo! I am not, of course, referring to the newest corps de ballet member (who generally does the shovelling) but to the plump, white Shetland pony that pulls the little trap carrying Lise and the Widow Simone to the harvest celebrations in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) . Peregrine’s pawing of the air, midway through the journey (awaiting the mint that is surreptitiously fed to him at this point), invariably draws a collective sigh; even if – on this occasion – we needed to ignore the appearance of him having grown a fifth leg.

Peregrine’s bowels and state of arousal provide the only variables in a production that is absolutely central to The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. It is a happy ballet about jolly times; hens dancing to welcome in the dawn; the blossoming of love while churning the milk; the simple wonderment of a flute; dancing around the maypole; a sudden summer storm; and, not forgetting Peregrine’s enjoyment at snaffling that mint.

One gets a clear sense that all is well with The Royal Ballet when they perform La Fille Mal Gardée with such joy. Every role is finessed and caressed with pride in its performance. Laura Morera won last year’s National Dance Award for Best Classical performance in this role, as Lise; and – if anything – she still improves upon it. Morera is simply charming in the title role of the wayward daughter, although, in truth, she is not so much wayward as just smitten with a young farmer; whilst her mother has other plans to marry her off to the son of a rich vineyard owner.

Vadim Muntagirov is equally perfect in the devil-may-care role of Colas, the object of Lise’s affection; permanently smiling, supremely confident that, come-what-may, the girl is his. He’s a natural for romantic comedy and his chemistry with Morera is palpable. Their two pas de deux – one in each act – are confidently and tenderly performed. Thomas Whitehead brings a different reading to the role of the Widow Simone, nothing camp or burlesque, but nonetheless highly comic. Here was a man in drag playing an over-protective mother who wants only the very best for “her” daughter; and, by-the-by, milking every opportunity for humour, whether dancing in clogs or throwing flower pots, for all it is worth.

Paul Kay is another who lights up the stage in his quintessential portrayal of the reluctant suitor, Alain. It is arguably the most iconic supporting role in the whole of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire and Kay has nailed every second of it. Gary Avis gives a typically fine portrayal of the pompous, portly vineyard owner Thomas; all gout, red-faced flatulence and wobbling along on his walking stick; and Bennet Gartside was officiously impatient as the Village Notary, called in to draw up the marital contract for Alain and Lise, a task that is rendered redundant when true love prevails (Lise for Colas and Alain for his red brolly). Tristan Dyer did double duty as the Cockerel and the Clerk. Not many people can claim that on their CV!

This ballet’s feel-good factor is inbuilt through Osbert Lancaster’s wonderfully colourful and highly-stylised cartoon-book designs and in Jack Lanchbery’s vivid, summer-fuelled arrangement of Ferdinand Hérold’s score. These stable factors, aligned with Ashton’s glorious choreography and characterisations, all peppered with much-loved iconic moments (Simone’s clog dance, the Fanny Elssler pas de deux, Alain and his beloved red umbrella, the ribbon dance, Lise’s wedding mime and so much more) make this a true classic; quintessentially English, even if everything about it is French!

Continues in rep at the Royal Opera House until Saturday 22 October 2016

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Tristam Kenton

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