BWW Review: LA FILLE MAL GARDEE, Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House continues to treat us to a fortnightly fix of ballet - and what relief this latest edition is. After some rather sombre, heavier narrative works, the froth and joy of Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardée is balm for the soul.
Balletomanes will want to pour over this 2005 recording, which features Marianela Nunez's debut in the central role of Lise with Carlos Acosta as Colas. Fifteen years is a long time, and viewers will also enjoy seeing some familiar faces - now established Principals - in the corps de ballet, including Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb and Laura Morera.
As one might expect, Nunez is completely radiant in this role, effortlessly convincing as 16-year-old Lise, who is in love with Colas (Acosta) - a young farmer. The subsequent plot is not a stretch, so you can allow the pleasant pastels, maypole dancing, rowdy cockerel and hens to wash over you. Lise's mother, Widow Simone (an inspired William Tuckett) wants Lise to marry Alain, the son of a wealthy vineyard owner, but of course the choice between Alain - who's a bit of a simpleton - and the dashing young farmer isn't much of a choice. Hilarity ensues before love conquers all and the Widow agrees to let the couple marry.
There are countless standout moments in Fille, set against the backdrop of Osbert Lancaster's wholesome countryside designs and pastel palette. There are early highlights, including the pas de ruban - a famous duet for the central pair which sees them execute some intricate ribbon-ography, threading it between each other to make various patterns, all whilst gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Nunez acts as a maypole in another ribbon section where she holds several strands whilst en pointe, and the other ends are held by her friends who dance around her. It looks effortless, but must require a core of steel.
Perhaps the most show-stealing moment of the lot is Widow Simone's clog dance. Tuckett's Widow is a delightful klutz, but an endearing one. His clog dance is performed with confident comic timing and panache to perhaps the most familiar section of Ferdinand Hérold's score. Moreover, don't forget to enjoy the loveable cameo from Peregrine, a miniature shetland pony and a seasoned professional of the ballet world, who dutifully takes everyone off to the harvest.
For those who haven't been blessed with the opportunity to see Acosta dance as part of the Royal Ballet company, this recording gives fine insight. So assured and technically precise, this is him at his peak - nor does he ever fail to show off Nunez in the dreamy wedding pas de deux full of luxurious, elegant choreography and lingering lifts.
You could do far worse during what are hopefully the last of these lengthy lockdown days than indulge in this glorious, sunshine-y Ashton masterpiece for a couple of hours. It not only shows the company at their most resplendent, but offers an intriguing glimpse of the recent past too.
La Fille Mal Gardée is available on YouTube until 26 June