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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'La Fille mal Gardée'

by David Mead

May 10, 2006 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England

If you stop and think about it, there is something a little strange about “Fille”. How is it that a ballet that originated in France, and that judging from the set and designs is so obviously French, feels so English?

What Ashton, does of course, is evoke the England of our dreams, an England suspended in time. As he put it, “a leafy pastorale of perpetual sunshine and the humming of bees,” to which he might have added, where everything is perfect and the sun always seems to be shining. Of course, it’s an England that never existed. The other aspect of his genius is incorporating elements of that wonderfully English institution, pantomime, into his tale of village life.

On Wednesday evening, that England of our imagination came to the stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome. The ballet is so enchanting that even though I suspect most of the audience had seen it before, probably many times before, and knew what is coming, everyone still laughed in all the right places and still went ‘aaaahhh’ when the pony appeared to take Lise and her mother to the picnic.

Nao Sakuma made for a delightful Lise. Not only did she make the choreography look easy, but she can act and has great comic timing. She moved effortlessly between mischievous young lady and someone clearly deeply in love. Some of her facial expressions, done as asides to the audience, were quite brilliant. Robert Parker, meanwhile, was perhaps a little restrained in his portrayal of Colas. Somehow, he didn’t seem quite as in love as she was, although his dancing was very strong, the multiple turns in Act III being especially memorable.

Elsewhere, Christopher Larsen could perhaps have been a little more gormless as Alain, the village dimwit, albeit a rich dimwit. We all laugh at him but again Ashton’s storytelling is such that by the end of the ballet we actually feel quite sorry for him. Maybe one day he will find love of his own, and I don’t mean with his red umbrella. David Morse once again showed what a master character actor he is with a very funny portrayal of Lise’s mother, Widow Simone.

All in all, an evening of sunshine and happiness. The whole corps looked like they really were enjoying it just as much as we were sitting in the audience. I know I walked out of the theatre smiling and humming the tunes to myself and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Continues on tour to Plymouth, Salford and Cardiff.

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