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ASHTON'S La Fille Mal Gardee in the 2000's.Reflections on a real charming ballet


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#1 Nanarina

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 03:21 PM

:dunno: :) Sir Fred. Ashton's revival of this old French ballet in 1960, was a joy to behold. It was one of those productions you left the theatre in a happy mood, and felt comfortable in taking a young person to see it for their fist introduction to Ballet. It was simply really charming.

#2 Paul Parish

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 07:25 PM

"Fille" was the first ballet I ever saw, and I didn't realize how much it had changed my life because its appeal was so fresh and as you say charming. i'd been deilghted -- within an inch of my life, I'd been delighted. There wasn't a second of it that wasn't marvelous -- but I had not been overwhelmed at any point, though maybe , in fact I'm pretty sure I felt tears in my eyes when Lise was imagining having her children. THe thing I remember being surprised by -- in fact, amazed by -- was that I'd felt I understood every second of it, but could not understand HOW I understood; it's as if I had second sight. That fascinated me.

It was almost an accident that I went -- I was a student at Oxford, and a classmate and his girlfriend insisted I had to go see it with hem. THe terain trip was not difficult, but it WAS a trip to go up to London -- Saturday matinee at the Royal Opera House, very cheap in those days; it wsa Leslie Collier's debut in a full-length role, 1969 or 70. After that I was going back by myself or with them whenever i could get away.

Nanarina, you might want to know that Ashton choreographed it because "Karsavina was always begging him to revive it." he got the mime scene directly from her.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 07:47 PM

The opportunity to stage it was hastened by John Lanchbery's discovery of a violin-repetiteur for all the 6/8 numbers in the Herold score. That's one reason there's so much of that rollicking time signatures in his finished version. I always thought it was fun that he took the ballet's subtitle "Useless Precautions" and chose to introduce the main characters (after the chickens) with the "Piano, pianissimo" opening from another show with that subtitle - Rossini's The Barber of Seville!

#4 Nanarina

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 03:27 PM

Thank you to Mel ane Paul for your posts, I have such happy memories of "Fille" and I will explain why. I was aware of the connection between the mime scene and Kars. also how John Lanchberry had discovered the musical score.

In 1960 I was nineteen years old, and had just started my Apprenticeship at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The first production I worked on was in fact "Fille" for it'S Premier the same year. I had to learn the Costume and prop schedules, which I completed, after then I found myself helping at fitting sessions costume parades, and a photo call. In the meantime, I had also become a dresser for the Ballet, and as part of this I learnt the quick changes. Due to illness of one of the Senior dressers who worked on the top floor, I found myself seconded to the Ballerina's level, and put on the spot, literally dropped into it, I suddenly had to undertake my first quick change in the wings. I had always done my upmost to learn everything I could, so I was soon in demand, as it turned out I was very quick and reliable in helping the Dancer's change their costumes. I went on to learn all the Ballet's in the Repertoire, the very comprehensive Costume Lists, as well as becoming a Costumier.

I stayed at the ROH until I was over 21 years old, and then transferred to the Touring Company, again stepping in due to staff illness. Actually, I never did return to work in "the garden", only when our Company performed there, when the resident Co. were on tour. I ended up in charge of the Ladies Wardrobe, on tour. It was quite a hard, but rewarding life, with Monday to Saturday nights, two matinee's, and travelling on Sunday. But I loved it, we were a big happy family, enjoying friendship and got to know each other very well. In some of the big cities like Liverpool, we would go with members of the Orchestra to rehearsals of the famous Orchestra's, or visit places of interest on our day off.

Fille mal Gardee was a much loved and regularly performed favourite all over the UK, and even abroad. The Touring Company began well thought of, and some later stars of the Royal Ballet made their debut in it. The orginal cast in London had been Nadia Nerina (Lise) David Blair(Colas), Alexander Grant(Alain), Stanley Holden(Widow Simone) Lesley Edwards(Farmer Thomas). Our Dancers to portray the roles equally as well were, Lise - Doreen Wells, Shirley Grahame,Brenda Last, Colas - David Wall, Gary Sherwood, Michael Coleman, Widow Simone - Ronald Emblem, David Gordon,Brien Shaw, Alain - John Sale, Gary Grant, Farmer Thomas Henry Legerton ( To the best of my memory).

The roles Sir "Fred" created were unique, Widow Simone was essentially based on a Pantomine dame, Lise her wayward naughty daughter, was a truly comic role, and Alain her reluctant simple but rich groom, (her Mother's but not her choice), was extremely funny, and would often have the cast in fits of laughter. Which was perfectly acceptable for this humorous delightful ballet.

The choreography included wonderful variations featuring wide pink satin ribbons, used to marvelous effect, from the Lovers knot, made by Lise and Colas, to the shapes the friends made to support the cornfield pas de deux, and a brilliant pose on one point, Lise makes, holding eight ribbons, when the other girls turn her on the spot, which never failed to get huge applause from the audience. The corp de ballet boys and girls dances contained traditional national dances, Morris, stick dances, a full size maypole, and the much loved clog dance where Widow Simone shows off her over zealous skills and nearly comes unstuck. Alain with his red umbrella, with it's ducks head handle, that uses as a horse, when the charming little white shetland pony, appears, and later during the storm, he is swept up high as the wind and rain catch him.

The famous mime scene, where Lise dreams of being married to Colas and having his children, after being locked in by her Mother when she has yet again tried to sneek off with the villagers, and the shock and embarresment she experiences when she learns Colas has hiden behind the hay bales and seen her.

This ballet is so essentially English, I wonder how other companies abroad, cope with the role portrayal. In recent times The Australian Ballet have made a DVD, which is very close to the original, which is well worth buying. However, The Paris Opera Ballet have also performed it , and I sincerely wonder what they make of it. I do not doubt their technical ability, this side of the production should not be difficult for them, but I do question the authenticity of how they would create the so very special roles of the main character's. I just cannot picture some of the Etoile's getting anywhere near the humerous and charming characters. I suppose the only way to find out, is to attend a performance, and hope I would not be disapointed, having been so closely involved with the original production. :cool: :)


Has anyone seen "Fille" recently? if so, what did you think?

#5 glebb

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 04:55 PM

I've not seen the ballet recently.
I first saw it at Kennedy Center in the 70s - Merle Park and Nureyev.
The chickens, Rudy bursting out of the bales of hay, Park hanging from his arms in the window - legs doing tick-tock, the ribbons, maypole and clog dances I recall the most.
In the 80s I had the honor of dancing Alain having been taught by Faith Worth and coached by Alexander Grant. My Widow Simon was none other than Stanley Holden! When I look back I can't help but be extremely thankful for those experiences.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 05:34 PM

The last time I saw it was with ABT and it's one of the best things I"ve ever seen them do. You would have thought the ballet was set on them, about a week ago. (Alexander Grant staged it.) The cast was Ashley Tuttle and Ethan Stiefel, with Kirk Peterson as the Widow Simone. They had the tone right, the mime right, the dancing was musical, the audience howled, the critics wrote and wrote and WROTE about it -- and I don't think they've done it since. :)

#7 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 08:39 PM

This ballet is so essentially English, I wonder how other companies abroad, cope with the role portrayal.


Beautiful memories Nanarina-(BTW, i love your screenname :) ). I grew up watching "Fille" in regular basis in Havana. It's still a highly appreciated ballet among cuban balletomanes, and Mme. Alonso keeps presenting it every year, non stopping. Particularly one Principal Ballerina of the 70's-80's, Maria Elena Llorente, was well known for dancing the role-(which in Cuba i knew by the name of Lissette, her counterpart as Colin). This production is Mme.'s own revival dated from 1952, and it's still in active repertoire.
http://translate.goo...e...D1&ie=UTF-8

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 09:17 PM

Cristian, I believe Mme. Alonso's version is very different. It's the same story, but it descends from the Russian (which probably descends, at least in part, from the old French). Ashton completely rechoreographed it. If there aren't dancing chickens in the version you're used to, and a lot of beautiful and imaginative use of ribbons, it's not the Ashton :)

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 10:05 PM

A friend of mine, a former dancer, saw it last year in Paris and loved it. DIdn't get a lot of details, except that her husband (who's not a dancer) loved it even more than she did.

The French dancers who've moved here and dance with San Francisco Ballet ALL seem to have a great sense of humor and a natural feel for gesture, so I bet they do do it well. But htat's just my guess.

Still, I know what you mean about its Englishness. In fact, Edwin denby commented on its mild gentle Englishness in his review of Fille and wondered if Americans would feel the charm. As Glebb recalls, it does seem to go from highlight to highlight -- but it does that without ever going for some over-the-top feat of bravura. Even when Lise is leaping about or spinning in hte midst of all those ribbons there are no show-stopping effects --

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 03:15 AM

Of course, the show as a whole goes back to Bordeaux in 1789, and the original seems to have contained dancing, dialogue, standup comedy, songs, and other performing arts. We could as easily class it as a musical comedy as a ballet. As the corps exits in its farandole, they preserve a little of the singing in the Ashton. The other version which survives is after Ivanov and Gorsky, and was preserved in versions by Ferdinand Nault and Alonso. Its music is by Peter L. Hertel.

#11 rg

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 09:06 AM

also, as Natalia can confirm in more detail, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy has a version of Gorsky's staging still in its repertory; a perf. was telecast in Japan with Bolshoi school not that long ago.
meanwhile, the attached, undated photocard shows much-loved moscow ballerina Sofia Fedorova as Liza at her spinning wheel in the last act of Gorsky's production. (Fedorova took on the role in 1905, when Gorsky seems to have re-staged his previous '01 production, with Grimaldi as Liza, for his russian ballerina, who danced opposite m. mordkin as Kolen/Colas.

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#12 bingham

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 09:19 AM

The last time I saw it was with ABT and it's one of the best things I"ve ever seen them do. You would have thought the ballet was set on them, about a week ago. (Alexander Grant staged it.) The cast was Ashley Tuttle and Ethan Stiefel, with Kirk Peterson as the Widow Simone. They had the tone right, the mime right, the dancing was musical, the audience howled, the critics wrote and wrote and WROTE about it -- and I don't think they've done it since. :(

La Fille... have always been a favorite of mine and i enjoyed the ABT staging a few years ago. Apparently,it was not a big crowd-drawer and it has not been repeated. I wished ABT would do it next season. Herman and Sarah would be wonderful in this ballet, i think. :) :beg:

#13 Paul Parish

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 04:24 PM

Colas was one of the first great successes of Marius Petipa as a dancer, in Bordeaux.

It's always appealed to me to think that Petipa came up with "DOn Quixote" as a way of using the same story -- our girl gets rescued from having to marry a rich foolish suitor that the parent INSISTS she marry, and gets to marry the guy she wanted all along, which is a fable of a revolutionary idea (the woman gets to choose) -- as a hook to hang all hte Spanish dancing he learned in his 3-year job dancing in Madrid, when he got a chance to choreograph something big and splashy in St Petersburg.

Petipa certainly kept Fille alive in St Petersburg, as well as doing DOn Q several times over.

One wonders if hte mime scene goes all hte way back. Karsavina , who taught it to Ashton, learned it from Pavrel Gerdt who'd partnered the divine ZUcchi, who'd starred as Lise in Petipa's production. Wonder if it was the same that Petipa had seen in the 1840's, and if it was Vestris's -- or maybe even Dauberval's in all its essentials to begin with?

THe Royal Ballet's DVDF on mime has a long sequence teaching the mime scene which is EXTREMELY affectingly performed (by Sarah Lamb?)

There is by the way an astonishingly detailed and amusing and impressively knowledgeable account of the history of "FIlle" at Wikipedia. The list of choreographers who kept the ballet alive is itself a hall of fame -- Petipa's production was a revival of Taglioni's. Makes for excellent reading -- I must quote the following:
"A feature of the Ivanov production was the use of live chickens on stage. One evening when Preobrajenskaya danced the role of Lise, her rival, Kschessinskaya, let all of the chickens out of their coups during her variation, with many of them landing in the orchestra pit and even on the laps of many of the musicians. Preobrajenskaya kept on dancing as if nothing happened."

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PS THANK YOU, Nanarina, for that wonderful account of your life backstage with Fille. It's wonderful to know about all that. We don't really know about the quick changes; the REAL time backstage is quite different from the stage-time the audience is aware of.

#14 bart

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 04:40 PM

Paul, your point about the plot parallels -- and treatment of the young, rescourceful and nice but independent girl -- in Fille and Don Q are very interesting. Thank you, also, for the information about Pepita in Bordeaux.

Humor is such a personal thing. I love the pas de trois for Lisa, Colas, and the out-of-it Alain (sorry, glebb) It's one of the most charming and witty bits of character play in ballet. On the other hand, speaking only for myself, I fail on the chicken-appreciation test.

I've only seen the Royal Ballet dvd with Lesley Collier and Michael Coleman, to designs by Osbert Lancaster. How does that peformance compare to others you have seen?

And how about other dvds? Amazon has The Australian Ballet production of the Ashton ballet, with Fiona Tonkin, and David McAllister. Nanarina recommended this above. Amazon also has a dvd of a version by Heinz Spoerli for Basler Ballett, with Valentina Kozlova and Chris Jensen. Any comments about either of those?

#15 kfw

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 05:49 PM

And how about other dvds? Amazon has The Australian Ballet production of the Ashton ballet, with Fiona Tonkin, and David McAllister. Nanarina recommended this above. Amazon also has a dvd of a version by Heinz Spoerli for Basler Ballett, with Valentina Kozlova and Chris Jensen. Any comments about either of those?

And who will be first, in the "Ballet Videos, Films, and Broadcast Performances" forum, to review the Royal's new release? :wink:


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