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La Fille Mal Gardee


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 10:32 PM

[I'm starting this thread under Boston Ballet, because it consists of my reactions to Boston Ballet's March 14th, 2006 matinee performance... but I'd really rather it ended up under "Ballets" than "ballet companies" in the hopes that someone who saw the original Fille will respond.. is it possible to move it there leaving a link from under Boston Ballet?]

After hearing of it for so long, I have finally seen La Fille Mal Gardee and I wonder why it too me so long to see this ballet! It belongs in every company's rep, at least every company that mounts Nutcracker and Coppelia. I only wish I had taken my seven-year-old. This piece is certainly a Coppelia alternate. And so, is it yet in most company's repetoires? Is this a relatively recent development?

Okay, my random observations:

I was very happy to have been given a friend's comp ticket for an orchestra seat I could never have afforded on my own. I take back everything I might have said about the Wang before... from the orchestra it is a perfectly lovely place to watch ballet. Companies always seem better to me when I sit closer up (unless of course they're completely hopeless, then it's better to sit far far away and imagine one sees pointed feet and stretched knees).

However, IF the Ballet is going to print credits in it's program in 5 & 6 point size typefaces, than it #%*-well ought to bring the house lights up a little brighter during intermission. I'm no spring chicken, but I'm not geriatric either, and when in frustration I asked my 19 year-old neighbor to read the lines in question, she had to bring it practically up to her nose to read it. (and yes, I was trying to figure out who their archival videographer was, however I also couldn't read the text under the dancers' names and come to think of it could barely make out their names). [and one more Wang thing: just what were those boxes with red pilot lights in them above the speakers on the sides of the proscenium?]

Okay, back to the ballet in question.

I remember seeing photos of Alain with a butterfly net and something in the synopsis that he would prefer to be chasing butterflies.... am I thinking of some other ballet? There was no butterfly net in this, but a red umbrella was his frequent companion... Was this changed over the years?

The work was set on Boston Ballet by it's copyright owner: Alexander Grant. I'm afraid I didn't know the name, but Ballet.co had some info to fill me in: he was the original Alain. Ballet.co also has some historical notes on Fille, but no info on a butterfly net.

I enjoyed the "etching" cross-hatchings of shadows on Osbert Lancaster's sets & drops. (Who wouldn't love a giant portrait of a cow above one's fireplace?) What were those strange trees around the lake in the front curtain? (my vocabulary has vanished... can't remember what one calls the front drop, fore curtain).

I'm wondering if different choreographers can be said to have different musicality... Would Balanchine want his dancers so clean fast that they almost preceded the beat while Ashton perhaps wanted them to almost follow it? At times I wished the dancers musicality was a little more lushly langorous. I was thinking that, similarly to the Joffrey dancers performing the Nikolais piece in "The Company" that there were some examples of "over execution" of steps... steps where the shape & line was so over emphasized in that "diamond necklace" way that focus on the quality of the movement was lost... as if our current training of dancers is so "technique" oriented (aka flexibility & line & sharp execution) that a certain patina in the quality of movement has been lost... or perhaps that the movement loses a little of it's human origin/instigation/personality/character.

However, let me not be misunderstood... there was some glorious dancing on stage at the Wang on Sunday. I felt very priveleged to watch Misa Kuranaga & Reyneris Reyes. In particular, I'm grateful for Misa Kuranaga for dispelling my former notion that Japanese ballerinas are too reticent to be much fun watching outside of Les Sylphides. Although listed as a only "second soloist" (what's that?), she was delightful as Lise. I think this pair was the poster cast? (Photo next to La Fille). The pantomime was wonderful... she had us all laughing with her antics to throw off the Widow Simone. I haven't seen much Ashton (the last thing was Sylvia, which I didn't much enjoy), but I gather pantomime scenes were one of his special gifts. Reyneris Reyes pulled off some wonderful virtuoso bits... no complaints from me.

I enjoyed the ribbon motif throughout the piece, though I thought there was something off with the ribbon material... it didn't float where it seemed like it should float and it didn't fling where it seemed it should fling. I remember an Isadora Duncan dancer talking to me once about how expensive her costumes were because they had to be of a certain weight of silk or they didn't move properly... I'm wondering what was up with the ribbons, here? Anyone know? (it was a rainy spitting god-awful day, perhaps it was just a humidity issue?... any dancer with arthritis or tendonitis issues must have been considering retirement)

Speaking of ribbons, I loved that fantastic balance in Lise's ribbon guided promenade in attitude. Is/was beautiful balance an English strong point? I keep remembering/imaging Fonteyn as Aurora...

And what is the story with those Chickens? I couldn't help chortling every time I saw them. Sadistic, don't you think? Were animals in ballet a favorite amusement of the Queen Mother? I seem to remember reading somewhere that she & Ashton were chummy. Did he put these in to entertain her?

Widow Simone was wonderfully acted by Christopher Budzynski, though I wasn't convinced by the clog dance. This is one of those things I've heard about now for about 4 decades, so my perhaps anticipation was too high. I enjoyed the choreography but felt the timing was subtlely off... as if a tap dancer or vaudevillian or British musical hall denizen would have pulled it off slightly differently. And those wierd clogs the girls wore behind him.... is that what they've always worn? They seemed very rubbery instead of wooden.

The corps desported themselves well in the various "country" dances... really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

There were some costume mishaps... Widow Simone's dress caught & half the trim ripped off when a drawer closed on it, and a corps dancer's hat slid off and into her face while she was dancing. I think dancers should be trained to deal with this sort of thing just as they are expected to do their own make-up, etc.. It's so difficult to figure out what to do about something like this while you're trying to keep up with the music, etc... but it's just so distracting to watch... it would be far less distracting to disappear offstage for a moment and fix it than keep dancing in spite of it... the absence would be less distracting than the costume misbehaving. It is very hard to think spontaneously when one's brain is caught up in trying to maintain the action, but it should be drilled as a knee-jerk reaction to stop & fix the problem (knee-jerk reaction because that would be the only hope). A while into the scene Christopher Budzynski managed to do something to tie it up, but until that point many of us in the audience were wondering whether he was going to trip on it (I heard several comments to this effect after the show).

What is that dance with sticks done in the second act? Is it supposed to be some sort of threshing dance? I also dearly wished that the sheafs of corn (grain to us Americans who think "corn" is maize and nothing else) were a little more realistic.

My favorite Ashton moment? 2nd act: those tingling bourees done after the kiss on the neck.... or maybe it was the whole transom pas de deux.

#2 rg

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 06:32 AM

hi amy,

even if you read my FILLE section in BALLET 101 you wouldn't find any ref. to the butterfly net you recall b/c that detail is familiar to some of us from ABT's nijinska-lineage staging. ABT last performed this version in the 70s, often w/ makarova, kirkland and baryshnikov among the leads. the alain then was fequently warren conover. the character of alain in that staging has a butterfly-catching mania and his dancing often involves scooping a little butterfly net in the air of his grand jete moves.

a.grant figures prominently in SECRET MUSES julie kavanagh's excellent biog of ashton, which dwells on the dancers who most inspired him and and w/ whom he was closest. grant was one of these and it was to him that that ashton's will left FILLE. and yes he was the original alain, and created many more roles in other asthon works.

re: balances and balancing or equilibres - since fonteyn managed to make aurora's balances a key part of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, they have become something of a high point in english ballet history. this particular FILLE moment was devised by ashton for the virtuoso technique of n.nerina, whose technical strong points are imprinted all thru the role of lise, esp. in the harvesting scene solo, sometimes called the elssler pas because it's set to an interpolation of music once danced by fanny elssler.

[there is a british kinescope of the first cast dancing FILLE and nerina is a joy through and through and still incomparable in parts, despite any number of later ballerinas who danced the role brilliantly.]

the presence of chickens seems to date from the very beginnings of FILLE. a pastiche/reconstruction of duaberval's earliest staging of this ballet by ivo camer toured to the UK and the US by the ballet from reims, and it included a moment for some chickens, in this case wooden ones arranged on a long plank that had them pecking and bobbing up and down at the ballet's beginning.

the dance w/ sticks is a rendering of typically english morris dancing. david vaughan's book FREDERICK ASHTON AND HIS BALLETS tells much more about all this.

#3 cargill

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 06:38 AM

Amy, Alain's butterfly net is part of the Russian Fille, but Ashton dropped it in his version, so yes, you would have certainly seen pictures of it! The mime scene, where Lise day dreams of her marriage comes directly from the old Russian version, via Karsavina, who encouraged Ashton to choreograph his version to the tradtional scenario, but all of the other steps are original. I did see the original Widow, Stanley Holden, and the clog dance is certainly based on the old English music hall traditions, which is very hard to translate. I thought that Boston Ballet did good job with the Widow, though. The dance with sticks is based on English folk dancing--I don't remember off hand which one, but I love it! I think Ashton's chickens were his way of getting the ballet started on the right note, funny, witty, and joyful. He did a number of pieces based on animal movements, probably in honor or inspired by Petipa's cats. I agree that it is a perfectly wonderful ballet. ABT did a very good job of it a couple of years ago, and the Pennsylvania Ballet also did it. I expect it is very very hard to cast and coach (the last time I saw the Royal Ballet do it, the Widow was unspeakably bad), plus the sets are probably expensive, and without a familiar title it isn't a guaranteed sell. (Someone I think has suggested renaming Colas and Lise Romeo and Juliet, which would guarantee a box office.) It is a simply wonderful ballet, and I am so happy I got a chance to see it again.

#4 cargill

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 06:43 AM

Robert, just a quick note--Grant was the original Bottom in The Dream, not Puck, just in case any one is confused. He was wonderful in both of them, perfect comic timing, and he could also make you cry with a tilt of his head. The scene when Alain offers the ring to the audience and the one where Bottom remembers his dream still give me chills thinking about them.

#5 rg

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 07:11 AM

duh, the only one really confused here is yrs.trly.
i've stripped my early morning, hurried post of the gaffe, which mary so keenly caught.
indeed, grant originate the role of bottom in DREAM; puck was first danced by keith martin. double duh!
grant is nicely documented as Terrenio, another role he created for ashton, in the ONDINE segment of czinner's film THE ROYAL BALLET.

#6 rg

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 07:33 AM

not sure if i have the ability to post scans here, if so here are 3 historic views of FILLE in russia.
center = dobujinski's design for lisa as danced by karsavina
left = preobrajenska as lisa in act 1
right = karsavina as lisa
additionally, separate scan = konstantin varlamov as Marcelina, the character called Widow Simone in ashton's version. varlamov was a famous drama theater actor in st. petersburg.
this may well be the same prod. in which karsavina appeared.

Attached Files



#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 08:25 AM

Thank you so much for the historical notes! It's a good thing, too, because I had been under the impression that it was a very early ballet which had been lost long long ago and which Ashton almost completely recreated. I don't know why, but it's hard for me to imagine Warren Conover playing the village idiot... (his personality seems so calm nowadays?), I'm sure he was wonderful. It's also difficult to imagine Nijinska staging a comedy. I suppose she had impeccable memory? (Anyone sharp enough to count the dancers through Rite of Spring, and Les Noces must have had a good memory). I wonder if Boston & PA Ballet used the same sets and who they belong to.

The mime scene where Lise dreams of marriage is something all ballet students should see, because it is so clear and effective. Seeing that scene make the audience react would perhaps inspire them to make the pantomime scenes in other ballets communicate better... sometimes some dancers simply go through the poses without much effort to act. I was so pleased to see the pantomime scene in Balanchine's Nutcracker spelled out in Virginia Brook's documentary... even though I've seen that scene many many times there were parts I was clueless about (the waving gesture always suggested water to me rather than Marie comforting the Nutcracker, for instance... made little sense to me as you can imagine).

Thanks rg for the photos. Seeing the butter churn brought back the memory of that part of the choreography.

Is that kinescope in the NY Public Library's dance collection? I'd love to see the original cast in the clog dance.

And thanks for explaining the morris dancing section. My mentor in college did his PhD at Oxford on the history of Morris Dancing (or maybe it was his Masters?) and I've always wanted to see some. Come to think of it, he still teaches at Purchase, now in the dance department: John Forrest. I thought there were bells and swords and hobby horses and going from house to house. I guess it ties in with the spring theme of maypole, etc.? Come to think of it, what are they doing, harvesting and spring dances at the same time?

Edited by Amy Reusch, 14 March 2006 - 09:06 AM.


#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 08:36 AM

Hunting for morris dancing & Fille references, I came across Dale Brauner's review for danceviewtimes:

Ashton's Gentle Essay on Young Love

Apparently PAB got the sets from the National Ballet of Canada.

And John Percival's danceviewtimes review of the Royal Ballet as well:
A well-guarded daughter

The photos help keep memory of the ballet alive in my head.

Unfortunately "morris" in conjunction with La Fille keeps turning up Mark Morris and Gay Morris.

Edited by Amy Reusch, 14 March 2006 - 08:58 AM.


#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 10:16 AM

The sticks in morris dancing are the "swords" referred to in the history accounts of the form. I somewhere have some quotes from the Puritan era, when sheriffs would be running the dancers in for "profane dancing".

#10 rg

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 10:38 AM

re: the film of the first cast, more or less in tact, yes, linc.cent.lib. has a copy, as follows:
La fille mal gardée 1962. 88 min. : sd. b&w. NTSC. ; 3/4 in. (U-matic)
Telecast on BBC-TV, London. Produced by Margaret Dale.
Choreography: Frederick Ashton. Music: François Joseph Hérold, arranged, re-orchestrated and augmented by John Lanchberry; conducted by John Lanchberry. Decor: Osbert Lancaster. Performed by the Royal Ballet.
Cast: Nadia Nerina (Lise), David Blair (Colin), Stanley Holden (Widow Simone), Leslie Edwards (Thomas), Alexander Grant (Alain), Lawrence Ruffell (Cockerel), Avril Bergen, Kay Connett, Carole Hill, and Suzanne Smith (Hens), Christine Beckley, Rosalind Eyre, Aubrey Henderson, Ann Kenward, Vyvyan Lorrayne, Monica Mason, Pamela Moncur, and Georgina Parkinson (Lise's friends), Franklin White (Notary), and Michael Coleman (His secretary).

#11 sandik

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 12:49 PM

Robert, you made my day -- I hadn't seen that particular picture of Karsavina!

I have no historical details to add to the conversation, but just wanted to chime into a discussion about one of my favorite ballets. I'm sorry to hear that it was a bad day for ribbons when you saw it, Amy, since they are such a neat trick, and add so many lovely accents to the work (I cannot off the top of my head remember who wrote about kisses in Fille, mentioning that the ribbon "x"s could stand for even more kisses.)

I have to go find my video now...

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 02:29 PM

The mime scene where Lise mimes about married life is probably the oldest survival bit in the action, which of course goes back to Bordeaux, 1789. It's remarkably similar in both Nijinska's and Ashton's setting, although with different music.

#13 bart

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 02:30 PM

a.grant figures prominently in SECRET MUSES julie kavanagh's excellent biog of ashton, which dwells on the dancers who most inspired him and and w/ whom he was closest. grant was one of these and it was to him that that ashton's will left FILLE. and yes he was the original alain, and created many more roles in other asthon works.

Kavanaugh calls Alain "an even greater comic creation" than Widow Simone, and "a gift of love to Alexander Grant."

Apparently the choreography incorporates the "idiosyncratically abandoned" quality of Grant's jumps, and includes allusions in this role to Grant's "celebrated portrayal of Petrushka, another role which he took great care not to make self-pitying."

Another interesting pesonal point: "Possibly through nostalgia (or even settling old scores), Ashton gave Alexander Grant, rather than Nerina, the end of each act ... "

#14 Amy Reusch

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 08:14 PM

Oh, one more question.... and the origin of Alain's unique hairstyles?

Here's a link to Marcia Seigel's review in The Pheonix of the Boston Ballet Production: Farm Frolic:
Boston Ballet’s La Fille Mal Gardée


By the time they all rollick away singing at the end, you’re convinced they must have been having as much fun as you have for the past two hours.


I forgot to mention that part... hearing them sing as they leave... a sweet parting memory of how unique this ballet is... does that singing involve some sort of union contract clause too? Don't they get paid more if they speak?

Edited by Amy Reusch, 14 March 2006 - 08:29 PM.


#15 Marga

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Posted 14 March 2006 - 08:35 PM

And so, is it yet in most company's repetoires?

Both Orlando Ballet and Ballet Internationale performed it as their season opener this past autumn. Fernando Bujones was very involved with its production in Orlando, albeit long-distance from Miami, where he was undergoing treatment. It is the most delightful ballet and extremely well-done by Orlando Ballet as staged by ballet mistress Samantha Dunster. I was gushing over it then just as you are now, Amy. :clapping: I heard from a BI dancer friend that they had a wonderful time with it in Indianpolis, too. I am quite sure other regional companies have it in their repertoire as well, but don't have time to do a search right now to verify.


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