Last week it was time to return to Covent Garden for the first time since the Bolshoi Ballet came for a summer visit and slightly underwhelmed with their technically perfect but emotionally sterile performances. But here we are on more satisfying ground with the Royal Ballet's evergreen production of Sir Frederick Ashton's LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE.
Ashton's 1960 production has remained a constant in the Royal Ballet's repertoire and I suspect has been many people's first experience of ballet as it plays like a ballet pantomime. The night we saw it was it's 364th performance!
The very first production of LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE was in 1789 with music based on popular French compositions. In an 1828 revival this music was rewritten by composer Ferdinand Hérold into a more streamlined score. However in 1864 an Italian production commissioned a new score by the composer Peter Ludwig Hertel - it's quite confusing isn't it! However for Ashton's version he plumped for Hérold's score - but only
after John Lanchbery had incorporated bits of other scores into it!
The production also incorporates Osbert Lancaster's original storybook designs which add to the charm of the overall ballet. The story couldn't be simpler: farm girl Lise is in love with farmer Colas but her mother Widow Simone wants her to marry the rich twit Alain - will true love win out? Like, duh!
Ashton's choreography has a wonderful timeless quality to it which provided plenty of scope for little moments that give the principal's the chance to flesh out their roles so, even if it is a flimsy prospect on the page, in performance the dancers create vibrant characters.
Of course it also helps to have marvellous dancers in the main roles and we were lucky to have the spirited partnership of Steven McRae and Natalia Osipova as Colas and Lise. Neither were offstage for very long and their solos and duets were full of the joy and delight of young love. They fully deserved the huge ovation they received at their curtain call.
The last time we saw Thomas Whitehead on the stage of Covent Garden it was as the brooding lecherous husband in THE INVITATION but here he was great fun as the Widow Simone; Dan Leno as Widow Twankey reborn. It's not often that you hear laughter in the Covent Garden auditorium but his delightful clog dance with four farm girls was worth the price of admission alone!
There was also a nice supporting performance from James Hay as the dopey Alain, forever clutching his beloved red umbrella to him. Oh and a special mention to Peregrine the pony for a perfectly performed solo!
The ensemble provided excellent support - even the ballerina who slipped during one of the big company numbers. I suspect her pride was hurt more than anything else.
The real star however was Frederick Ashton's gloriously romantic choreography and I suspect this delicious rustic classic will be in the repertoire for years to come.
A timeless treasure....