La fille mal gardée, with McRae and Osipova, Royal Ballet, ROH, April 2015Posted on 24 April 2015
Inspired by a mid-eighteenth century painting, Jean Dauberval first created this ballet in 1789, and it was premiered in Bordeaux two weeks before the storming of the Bastille. Two years later it was presented in London where the musicians wrote ribald comments on the pastiche score, though that all changed in 1828 when a student of Dauberval’s created a new version with more coherent music by Ferdinand Hérold, based on the original pastiche.
But the real musical bounce in this glorious 1960 version by Frederick Ashton is due to John Lanchbery, who adapted Hérold’s score along with bits of Rossini, Donizetti and others. The scenario is a delight, with bucolic harvest scenes conveying the burgeoning sexual ripeness of Widow Simone’s daughter Lisa and her beloved swain Colas, danced here by Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae.
This performance on 23rd April was Ms Osipova’s debut in the role, and after a slightly nervous start she blossomed, helped by her own natural ballon and McRae’s attentive and sympathetic partnering. His usual ebullience and talent were on full display, and the Act I solo at the large vineyard was a particular joy. As Ms Osipova warmed to the role she showed a naïve charm and divine lightness of being, as if floating through the air during her final pas-de-deux with McRae.
As her mother the Widow Simone, Philip Mosley was an admirably earthy presence, performing a super clog dance in Act I. There was nothing over the top in his portrayal, as can sometimes happen, and all the acting was very well judged. Christopher Saunders made a comedic and jolly vineyard owner, with Paul Kay as his son Alain a wonderfully lovelorn young simpleton in Act I, showing real pathos in the second act when the two young lovers are found together in her room, and he and his father’s hopes are instantly dashed. After this sudden reversal the Village Notary puts things right by tearing up the contract and recommending a new one be drawn up, and the panache with which Gary Avis carried out this opportune legal manoeuvre turned a small vignette into a moment of exquisite drama.
Acting aside, the ensemble dancing was excellent, the cheerfulness of the young peasants palpable, and Michael Stojko made a very fine cockerel with his little jumps, beats, and notable precision. Musically John Lanchbery’s wonderful score was conducted by Barry Wordsworth with real joy and great sensitivity to the dancers.
Performances with various casts continue until the live cinema relay with this cast on May 5 — for details click here.