I’ve heard so much about The Royal Ballet’s ‘La Fille Mal Gardee’. It’s been described as being ‘a most delightful ballet’,’ fun and playful’,’ uplifting’, ‘technically challenging’, and even ‘perfect’ – needless to say, going into the live cinema relay of Tuesday’s performance, I was a little concerned that the ballet has been overhyped and would fall short of expectations that have been stacked so high by the glowing reviews.
However, I knew from the opening moments that I needn’t have worried – Fille was everything that the critics have said, and much, much more. There were fun moments you’d never see in a ballet, like the chickens, the maypole dance and the clog dance. I couldn’t fathom why Peregrine the Shetland pony had such rabid fans until I saw him eating a sugar cube fed by the Widow Simone – it was absolutely adorable to see the dancers petting him onstage as well! Darcy Bussell even presented Peregrine an edible bouquet from his fans at the interval, and there were ‘Awwws’ all around as we saw Peregrine chomp down immediately into the carrots and apples – he was not holding back.
Special mention has to also go to Paul Kay, who was great as the simpleton Alain. Comic roles are always harder to perform – it’s difficult enough to do a pirouette, much less pirouette and then pretend to fall – but Kay was brilliant. He bumbled across the stage, holding unconventional positions with such ease – I kept worrying that he’d injure himself by jumping with that red umbrella held between his legs!
Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae were fantastic as the two lead characters, Lise and Colas. I’ve always loved their dancing and feel that they were perfect for the roles – they were cheeky, playful, innocent and so natural. Although The Telegraph wasn’t enamoured by Osipova’s Lise, I thought she was wonderful. Known for her footwork and jumps, Osipova executed the lightning-quick steps with such ease. It was such a treat to finally see her in a full-length ballet (and not just in YouTube videos), and I was even more awestruck by how she managed to perform all the little hops en pointe in shoes that looked extremely broken in – the fabric around the box was all creased!
As for McRae, I’ve seen him twice before – in ‘Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Age of Innocence’ – but as good as he was in the other two, he truly dazzled in Fille. His first solo took my breath away; it was a series of turns that were fast, precise and perfect. We were treated to yet another set of turns near the end of the ballet, and this time I noticed that McRae’s supporting foot barely moved from the spot – it was unbelievable and one can only dream of executing such clean, beautiful turns. Combined with his charming smile, McRae onstage is simply irresistible. I saw a YouTube video of Marianela Nunez and Carlos Acosta in the same roles, and definitely preferred Osipova and McRae who were more convincing.
This sums it up – they were dazzling and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Osipova is quite smiley, as I’d always thought of her as being rather serious.
However, I think what I loved most about Fille were the parts where the choreography was unconventional and unexpected. Like the crazy dancing that Lise did while trying to convince her mother that she wasn’t up to something. And when Colas appeared above the door and carried Lise up, swaying her from side to side as she rocked, back towards the audience, like a pendulum. Or when Lise, pouting and missing Colas, thumped down the stairs a step at a time on her bottom, feet splayed out in front of her. Although I didn’t enjoy some of Ashton’s works, there’s something to be said about his wonderful choreography for story-ballets, and Fille is perfect example of a wonderful masterpiece.