La Fille mal gardée, with Choe and Maloney, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

For a witty pastoral story of young love triumphing over a widow’s desire to marry her daughter into wealth this ballet is hard to beat. First created in 1789, the year of the French revolution, its characters are ordinary folk, unlike the stylized shepherds and shepherdesses seen on stage at that time.

The scenario is refreshingly simple — a model of how a light comic ballet should be constructed — and Ashton’s wonderful 1960 version for the Royal Ballet is a delight. It uses music created by John Lanchbery, based on Ferdinand Hérold’s 1828 score, and the result is a bundle of fun. Ashton’s choreography has been widely adopted, but though looking superficially simple is not easy to dance well.

Cockerel and hens, all images Tristram Kenton

It all starts with four hens and a cockerel, amusingly performed here by Liam Scarlett, and we then meet Lise, delightfully danced by Yuhui Choe. Perpetually trying to get away from her mother’s restrictions, she leaves a pink ribbon tied in a lovers’ knot for her beloved Colas, danced by Brian Maloney. He made a good partner for Choe, elegant and enthusiastic, but the choreography proved too much for him, and his solos were not a success — off the music, marking some turns, and landing badly. This is a pity because if the Company really concentrated on getting this ballet right it’s a winner.

Alain enters

However, Michael Stojko gave a very fine performance of Alain, simpleton son of a wealthy landowner, and the would-be fiancé of Lise. He had the pathos, he had the shy wit, and his clumsy dancing was beautifully done. When he climbed in at the end to retrieve his red umbrella he rounded off the ballet perfectly. Lise’s mother, Widow Simone was well portrayed by Philip Mosley, without the overdone antics that I’ve seen in some other performers. The ballet is not really about her, and I think he played it just right.

Osbert Lancaster’s sets for this ballet have a perennial charm, and if you have never seen it before, then it’s a must-see. The problem was the dancing, but if you don’t know the details you may not notice anything amiss. For example in Act I of this performance the long pink ribbon lay rather flaccid on the floor as Lise jumped over it, and at the end of Act II there was no bum lift. But the music was super, well conducted by Barry Wordsworth, and next week I shall report on a different cast headed by Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez.

Performances with various casts continue until May 16 — for details click here.

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