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Pennsylvania Ballet

'La Fille Mal Gardee'

Crowding the comedy

by Lori Ibay

March 4, 2005 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Sir Fredrick Ashton's "La Fille mal gardee" is an ambitious undertaking for a relatively small ballet company like Pennsylvania Ballet to tackle as their first full-length ballet of the season (excluding "Nutcracker"). Although the stage sometimes seemed too small for the scenery, and despite some uncooperative props (a flying scythe here, an unruly ribbon there), Pennsylvania Ballet's principals outshone a rusty-appearing corps, treating their audience to a lighthearted country romance.

The comedy of the Cockerel (Matthew Neenan) and the Hens (Laura Bowman, Adrianna deSvastich, Megan Dickinson, and Elysia Lichtine) first set the tone of the program after which the audience warmed up to Arantxa Ochoa's Lise and her overbearing mother, the Widow Simone (played by David Krensing) as the two young lovers, Lise and Colas (played by Zachary Hench), warmed up to each other.

Ochoa's spirited and sometimes rebellious heroine was immediately endearing, as was Hench's boyish hero. The pair was as delightful to watch together as they were in their solo performances. Ochoa was dainty and graceful, bouncing as if weightless on pointe. Opposite her, Hench was an attentive partner who showed off his soaring ability with powerful tours and tour jetes.

Adding to the comedy were Krensing's Widow Simone; Alain, Lise's would-be suitor (played by Philip Colucci); and Thomas, Alain's father, the prosperous owner of a vineyard (played by Alexei Charov). Krensing, Charov, and Colucci each triumphed in their respective roles, proving themselves masters of physical comedy and character dancing.

The corps added liveliness and merriment as the couple's friends, villagers, and harvesters, but were not as precise and polished on opening night as we are used to seeing. Dancers were half a beat behind with quick footwork, the men missed cues with their props in the scene three's 'stick dance,' and the four girls joining Krensing in Widow Simone's 'clog dance' dampened the beats of the clogs rather than enhancing them.

Like the corps, the sets were colorful and lively, but sometimes seemed to crowd the Academy's stage. The giant Maypole with its bright, flowing ribbons seemed somewhat suffocated, and as the corps expertly wove the ribbons as they danced around it, they only seemed to get tangled rather than showing off the pattern of the ensemble, intricate weaving. In the final scene when the harvesters bring in the stacks (behind which Colas is hiding), the props took up so much of the center of the stage that Hench must have been comfortable with the space to stretch, but the audience's view of much of the rest of the loft was blocked. You had to strain your neck to watch Lise dance her dream of married life, and you almost missed her slide down the stairs on her bottom as she lamented being separated from Colas.

However, the success of the program rested on the expertise of the principal characters and especially their interactions. From Lise and her mother's power struggle to the lovers‚ sweet youthful romance to the slapstick comedy of the Widow Simone, Alain, and Thomas, the company showed off their skills as character dancers and actors. Pennyslvania Ballet will give their audience another healthy dose of comedy in their upcoming program featuring "The Concert" by Jerome Robbins as well as Christopher Wheeldon's "Continuum."


Edited by Staff.

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