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Boston Ballet

'La Fille Mal Gardee' (Ashton)

by S.E. Arnold

March 1, 2003 -- Wang Center, Boston, MA

Like Zeus to Io, the Saturday evening performance of Ashton's 'La Fille Mal Gardee' given by the dancers and musicians of the Boston Ballet at the Wang Center grew into a resistless and seductive cloud of aesthetic pleasure and good cheer.

Although anathema perhaps, to Ashton, one defensively began counting beats if for no other reason than to keep one's reason. And, this sudden, even if fitful, imposition of a grid over the lush terrain of Ashton's choreography helped us discoverthe way of its allure. The dance is a weave of contrasts between on the beat emphasis -- as with turns in a manege or the folk dance quotes -- with steps that lagged a tad behind or over the beat -- most noticeable to this viewer in Lise's solos.

' 'La Fille' is a fount of jumps, small and large, beating movements, and bravura turns. And, yet, rather than creating an impressionistic image of character and action bathed in a haze of late spring light, the rhythmic interplay between choreography and music and the hummimg, buoyancy of its steps clearly defines the characters of Colas, Lise, and Alain, their relationships, and urges a viewer's delight in the ballet.

Stillness punctuates moments of dramatic importance. For example, the shock of rejection, in Act II, sends Alain fumbling down the stairs to Lise's room and rushes him upstage center to stand motionless at the brink of the pit. All on stage are still, and at this moment only the motion of the 'orchestral' fugue -- a bit reminiscent of the 'fugue of the Wilis' from Giselle -- carries the action. The quick entries of the sharp and short motif, plus the craft and seriousness associated with contrapuntal writing combine to create a psychological picture of Alain that renders the pain of his rejection palpable. If there was a doubt, this nearly unbearable moment of vulnerability and exposure affirms Alain's humanity. He may be awkward and simple, yet he is always human in spite of his commedia dell' arte funniness.

The music for the two acts and three scenes of 'La Fille', composed and arranged by John Lanchbery after the 1828 score for the ballet by Herold, also includes the 1837 interpolation of music from Donizetti's opera, 'The Elixir of Love,' originally meant to accommodate Fanny Elssler. Known as the Elssler pas, this section of choreography features a bewitching test of a ballerina's strength and confidence. And, on Saturday evening March 1, Sara Lamb, as Lise, ignored the demons of torsional forces and turned -- Lise at the hub, her friends at the rim, holding ribbons that function as spokes while circling around Lise providing her turning impetus -- in promenade in attitude with a sweetness and grace that barely rippled the air around her. Powerfully and confidently, Lamb made the role of Lise glow, and her assurance enveloped the cast and the audience.

As Zeus seduces Io in a cloud of amorous intent, so too does Ashton's 'La Fille Mal Gardee' divinely seduce the ballet's audience with an accumulation of aesthetic effect.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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