The happiest of happy ballets, where although there is a love story, nobody actually dies. Hooray! There is also the added bonus of giant ballet dancer hens and a cockerel frolicking on stage who literally trick the peasants into bowing to them. Perfect for children and those young at heart. We’re absolutely delighted that the Royal Ballet has decided to release a brand new DVD of this gorgeous ballet!
Lise – Natalia Osipova
Colas – Steven McRae
Widow Simone – Philip Mosley
Alain – Paul Kay
Thomas – Christopher Saunders
La Fille mal gardée was choreographed in 1960 by Sir Frederick Ashton, the Royal Ballet’s founder choreographer and one of their former artistic directors. This ballet is set in the English countryside, and is grounded in reality in the respect that there are no sleeping potions, or mythical creatures involved, but this doesn’t make it any less magical. The best sort of magic is found in this ballet through the fleet footwork which is Ashton’s choreographic trademark, and the fantastic chemistry between the dancers. And of course the added bonus of the animals; the previously mentioned dancing hens and a pony pulling the cart onstage.
Colas: Steven McRae, a real star of the Royal Ballet, is a natural choice for playing Colas, and excels in the cheeky, flirty, quick footed boy next door role. His technical abilities (those spins! those extensions!) and personality will make everyone watching this DVD fall ever so slightly in love with him. In Act I he comes across as confident and very sure of himself; stealing kisses with Lise literally behind her mother’s back, drinking with workers in the fields during the harvest and generally just being one of the lads. However in the second act he develops his character subtly by allowing the tenderness he feels towards Lise to shine through. Seriously, Colas is a catch.
Lise: Natalia Osipova, the Russian firecracker who is most critically acclaimed for her gothic Giselle, embraces the sunny role of Lise, playing a multifaceted character who is capable of showing tenderness towards her overprotective mother while defying her at the same time. Lise is in love with Colas, and her mother wants her to marry the more appropriate choice, Alain.
It goes without saying that Osipova’s dancing in this ballet is flawless, and she fearlessly embraces the Ashton style with her musicality shining throughout all of her rapid footwork. As usual for Osipova, her jump are extraordinary and defy the laws of gravity, and the speed that she whirls around the stage is incredible.
The brilliant thing about this ballet is that the roles are danced so expertly, and the acting is done with such skill, that the audience is on everyone’s side all at once. You will desperately want Lise and Colas to end up happily ever after! But you will also find Alain adorable and sympathetic, and feel sad for him that despite his best efforts (and Paul Kay’s magnificent solos in Act 1) he still doesn’t manage to impress her despite the pressure from his father and Widow Simone. The corps de ballet execute the Maypole dance perfectly, and are a joy to watch throughout.
Highlights: If we had to pick a few moments top of the list would be the show stopping technically challenging Fanny Elssler Pas De Deux. McRae really shines in this with his amazingly quick and perfect spins, and the one handed lift is a true show stopper. Osipova and McRae are evenly matched in terms of technical ability, and it really shows here. Combined with the sense of fun radiating from these two dancers during this pas de deux makes it a really special moment in the ballet. We also have to give an honourable mention goes to the wonderful Clog dance.
Extra bits to look for: In the beginning of Act 1 when Widow Simone is throwing items at Colas. She picks up a plant, pauses and then takes the plant out of the pot before throwing it. Clearly she wants to chase Colas off, but not at the cost of actually injuring him. Subtleties like this are studded throughout La Fille mal gardée and add such depth and value to the characters.
DVD: The DVD uses a wonderful selection of close ups and long shots to get the right feel for the acting and the glorious dancing. The only issue is that even though it’s been watched twice on different televisions and DVD players the lighting throughout remains is extremely dark, especially around the Act II set where a lot of important actions within the set feel lost.
The DVD includes two woefully short special features that can also be found on the Royal Ballet’s YouTube channel, but they are quite insightful and well produced. If you saw the cinema broadcast of this production you’ve already seen the features. Both already uploaded on the Royal Ballet official YouTube, the introduction by the cast can be found online here, and Darcey Bussell’s conversation with Leslie Collier is here. No one really buys ballet DVD’s for the special features, but it would be nice to include more extras as a special treat.
Featured Image: Photo: ©ROH. Tristram Kenton, 2015
La Fille mal gardee, Wikipedia page
Steven McRae Gif: http://balletomaneassoluta.tumblr.com/
DVD Cover image: Amazon.co.uk/Royal Opera House.