There are few ballets that are as enjoyable as “Fille Mal Gardée”, and even fewer that can rightfully claim to be a choreographic masterpiece. Though the odds were against Ashton when he decided to rework this masterpiece from the past, he managed to produce a work of genius capable of sustaining the audience’s delight, in spite of the music and the story. From the moment the chickens jump onto the stage to open the ballet with their dance, Ashton managed to challenge the audience’s expectations of what a “classical ballet” should be like. Only Morris or Tharp can manage to do something like that in our day and age.
“Fille” is rightfully part of the Royal Ballet’s heritage, but at times it suffered of underperformance in its leading roles and over the top interpretations in the character ones. The way the company performed the ballet on Wednesday 26th April left room for improvement at all levels, but at least showed a commitment to the work that had been lacking in the past years. There was actual improvement in all the interpretations as the work progressed and by the second act, it resembled the “Fille” we all used to love.
Roberta Márquez performed Lise. In the first act she seemed to be struggling with the choreographic language that Ashton assigned to the character. Cecchetti’s technique is lacking in today’s dancers and the constant hops in point and very fast footwork of the variations defy young interpreters. However, by the Fanny Essler’s pas de deux, she managed to overcome all technical difficulties and she seemed to find the confidence lacking in her previous appearances. From then on, her Lise was a delight to watch, especially in all her long scene with her mother, back at home, during the second act.
Ricardo Cervera’s Colas was a joy to watch from the stylistic point of view. However, like Márquez, he seemed to suffer in the characterisation of his first act appearances until he went past his variation in the pas de deux, which he excelled at.
Philip Mosley’s Widow Simone lacked musical precision during the first part of the ballet, but once he performed his Clog Dance, he offered one of the best performances of this role I have seen for some time. He simply did not overdo it, as most of his colleagues undertaking this role tend to do. As with so many of Ashton’s ballets, “less is more” and the dancers taking up his character roles should try to add as little as possible to them.
Giacomo Ciriaci’s Alain became better as he went along. I just wish that these dancers were given more precise instructions as to the ethos of their roles. Technical ability in a role as Alain should be secondary to the fact that the role needs to gain the sympathy of the audience, while being funny at the same time. As with Mosley’s performance, there was lack of timing with the music and this is crucial in this part. However, his final entrance to collect his umbrella was a joy to watch, so one can only hope the difficulties will be overcome.
Overall a very good performance of a great work. That Ashton can still make us leave the theatre with a smile on our faces after seeing his “Fille” only proves what a genius he was!