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RB's La Fille Mal Gardee

Claire S

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I'm in love - and with a ballet, too! I can't help it, La Fille Mal Gardee is probably the best night out I can have at the ballet! Really!

Making a welcome, return to Covent Garden (there were performances at the Royal Festival Hall during the closure period), this has to be Frederick Ashton's greatest gift to the Royal BAllet. Ashton left some wonderful ballets but rarely has choreography/scenario/music/design combined to such effect. The Nutcracker is the traditional Christmas, children's ballet but to my mind this is much more suited to non-ballet fans. It is marvellous to see it back in the repertoire with a new generation of dancers - I hope the incoming administration don't see it as a relic to be set aside in their rush join the adoration of NAcho Duarto (actually I love Duarto, too, I just want to see some Ashton too!)

Fille was probably old-fashioned whne it was first made in 1960. Osbert Lancaster's cartoon designs evoke a sunny, benign landscape in which the worst thing that can happen to a girl is not being allowed out to see her boyfriend and a happy ending is a certainty (not that many of those in ballet!) John Lanchbery returns to conduct the fizzy, lilting score he constructed from Herold and his own compositions - incidentally he got a tremendous ovation at 26/1/01 performance from what was obviously a fairly knowledgable audience.

I don't know if many overseas companies perform Fille - maybe it's too ENGLISH a ballet - but the choreography is both beautiful and witty, from the ribbon pas de deux to the clog dance and Lise's "marriage" mime.

Four casts are scheduled to dance this season but already Johan Kobborg has had to drop out - I was SO looking forward to that as I'm sure it would have been a perfect marriage of dancer and role. Miyako Yoshida (whose acting has improved tremendously since she began dancing regularly with Mukhamedov) and Mukhamedov were the first cast. She was terrific and Mukhamedov showed he'd still a great artist - OK, a bit hammy but still a fabulous dancer and a showman (I like a dancer who relates to the audience and looks like he's enjoyed it too!)

Sarah Wildor (the best Lise in 1998) is scheduled to dance with Ethan Stiefel (is he fit???!! I hope so) and Belinda Hatley will dance with Joahn persson, newly arrived from Canada. he's already danced with Jane Burn in place of Kobborg which sort of shows the lack of male dancers at the RB at the moment. Is there no one else - couldn't Burley give it a go, or Alvarez? I wish Carlos Acosta was scheduled for this run (I'll have to wait for his Oberon in May - should be amazing!)

I bought the video of an eighties performance of Fille with Lesley Collier which is just enchanting too, though a couple of the performances are a bit bland. Alexander Grant - the original Alain, Lise's unwanted suitor - has been coaching the current casts which may have accounted for the improved characterisation.

Ashton isn't supposed to "sell" well but Fille is practically sold out, the Ashton Revisited bill last MArch was the hottest ticket of the season and the Quintuple Bill including Symohonic Variations and Monotones last autumn was also very popular.

I'd be interested to know how much Ashton is performed by other companies and of so, is it very popular?


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La Fille is in the company of a number of companies, e.g. Australian Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, South Africa's State Ballet. I read that it was also staged for the Stuttgart Ballet last year by Alexander Grant. Actually Grant, invited by Stephen Jefferies of the Hong Kong Ballet, also staged it here last summer. (It is one of the few good productions among the many new productions brought by Jefferies here. I am often puzzled as to why Jefferies, a former Royal Ballet principal, hasn't arranged to have more Ashton works staged here; he han't even revived Les Patineurs and The Two Pigeons which were introduced by his predecessors. His choice of choreographers is quite dubious at times.)

But it didn't do well at the box office at all. Partly it was a result of the timing; Pacific Northwest Ballet only gave 4 performances of Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" the week before to sold-out audiences. As for the actual performance of La Fille that I saw, it however left a lot to be desired. I hope to see this ballet again when it receives further performances in Hong Kong next month.

[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited February 02, 2001).]

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Some companies in the Far East, Japan, have Ashtonfs in their repertory.

Maki Asami Ballet has La Fille and the Birthday Offerings (Ifve only seen the former and it was nice); Kobayashi Noriko Theater has Les Patineurs as one of its strongest pieces; and The New National Theater Ballet in Tokyo will revive Ashtonfs Cinderella in February, and itfll come back again in December (the fact proves how much the ballet welcomed in its premier in e99.)

I believe Ashtonfs ballets are suited for Japanese, both dancers and audiences. His choreography fits well to their compact bodies and accurate techniques particular to Japanese dancers. And his neo-classical style match to tastes of Japanese audiences. I hope to see Ashtonfs work much more in Japan!

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"La Fille" was the very first ballet I saw when I moved to Munich six years ago - and I fell in love with it, too. It's the only Ashton ballet that has been in the repertoire here - and it does not sell well. All those I know who have seen it loved it - it's just that it is so unknown here in Germany, as is Ashton. Ballet has only a very small platform compared to opera (like in so many countries), and IF opera goers happen to watch a ballet, it "must" be something "classic" like Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. But my personal opinion is that many of those "ballet newcomers" would be happier with "La Fille" as a start than with the white acts that I heard some of them find quite - sorry! - boring...

Since we don't get "La Fille" here, I have to get back to London in Feb!! This time I am going to take my mum there, and I am looking forward to a great time at ROH!

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It's one of my favourites too! I like the way Karen Kain (formerly of the National Ballet of Canada) describes it in her book: "Fille is as great a masterpiece as anything in the ballet repertoire, and it is only because it is a comedy-and a very English one at that-that it's not universally recognized as such. Perhaps also its great appeal for children, whith its chickens, its obstreperous rooster, its live pony and cart, blinds some adults to both its beauties and its deep wisdom."

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Fille was in the Joffrey Ballet's rep for many seasons. Les Patineurs, Monotones I & II, A Wedding Bouquet, Illuminations and The Dream were also in the Joffrey Ballet's rep.

Having danced in all except Monotones, I can report that Ashton ballets, though not easy, are a lot of fun to dance. For The Joffrey Ballet, Stanley Holden reprised his role of Widow Simone, for most performances and I really enjoyed flying with my red umbrella.

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Thanks to everyone for their intersting replies. I'm glad to see there are others out there who are entralled by the beauty behind the comedy!

Glebb, your comments on dancing Ashton (and being Alain!) were interesting. Incidentally, did you find Ashton particularly hard to dance? Last year I went to a talk by Johan Kobborg who described how hard he found Symphonic Variations (his first Ashton I think), yet when he watched others dancing it from the winds all he could think of was "Why is it so difficult?" As a non dancer - merely and entralled spectator - I'd be interested to know whether Ashton's deceptibvely simple steps are as hard/harder/easier than other choroegraphers.



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It's been a while, but I don't think Ashton was ever easy to dance.

I know that I had great admiration for his ballets after seeing THE DREAM at age 17. My love for that ballet made me strive to work hard and aquire the level of technique needed for Ashton ballets.

I loved dancing Puck, Boy in Blue and Alain the most.

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Has anyone on this board (beside me) seen the complete Russo-Soviet FILLE MAL GARDEE? It is delightful and has many elements that make me wonder if Ashton saw a recording of it...or saw it on tour in the USSR...before he set about to choreograph his 1960 FILLE? I do know that Karsavina assisted Ashton in setting some of the mime, which may account for some of the *incredible* similarities. smile.gif

The standard Russo-Soviet FILLE (a.k.a. VAIN PRECAUTIONS) is by Leonid Lavrovsky, from his 1937 Leningrad Maly Theater production. Lavrovsky maintained the best of the Imperial Era FILLES (1885 Petipa/Ivanov and 1901 Gorsky) & made it more theatrical. Too, Lavrovsky utilized the Hertel score (the Imperial Russian era music), rather than that by Herold, which Ashton used.

The Russo-Soviet/Lavrovsky FILLE is significantly longer than Ashton's. It includes a complete "Wedding Celebrations Act" (Act III) after the "discovery scene" in Simone/Lise's house. Act III is a Petipaesque Wedding Divertissement in a garden, complete with unlikely 'national dances' from far-off lands, such as a troupe of gypsies. The ballet ends with the Grand Pas de Deux for Lise and Colin. [This is the virtuoso pdd that is often danced in ballet competitions & which Baryshnikov revived for ABT in the early 1980s. ]

All of the comic touches that I heretofore thought of as "pure Ashton" are in the Lavrovsky; for example, Lise/Colin's Act I Ribbon Dance making a cat's cradle or the 'promenade' of characters before the front-curtain on their way to the harvest or Alain's dopey flirting with his beloved umbrella throughout the ballet and at the very end.

Ashton's main innovations are:

- dancing chickens (I love them!)

- Simone danced en travestie (as are Ashton's Ugly Stepsisters in CINDERELLA)

- Simone's hilarious Clog Dance

- Alain's "flight" at the end of Act I (the storm)

In sum, seeing the Russo-Soviet version of FILLE/VAIN PRECAUTIONS has shed *very interesting* light on the Ashton version. Both versions delightful...Ashton's tighter and more comic...the Russians a bit 'grander' but also very funny! - Jeannie

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Re the "incredible similarities," Ashton never pretended that the mime in Fille was his. One of the points of doing the ballet was to keep what Karsavina remembered, and the fact that she worked with him was completley open. He also worked with Karsavina on "Giselle," but that production, which included the original ending (Bathilde comes into the forest to fetch and forgive), was so harshly panned by the British critics as being old-fashioned that it was quickly dropped. He had choreographed an original peasant pas, which I would love to have seen.

ABT did an "after Petipa" version of "Fille" which the Washington Ballet mounted a few years ago. I'm sure it was much more compact than the original.

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That's why I mentioned Karsavina, Alexandra. smile.gif

The 1970s ABT version was indeed compact & did not resemble the Petipa/Lavrovsky/et. al.very much, except in basic plot. If memory serves, ABT's edition was by Bronislava Nijinska & utilized the Hertel ("Russian") score. The "Petipa et. al." is longer than even the Ashton. You should try to see it some day!

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Jeannie, I think you'll find that having Simone played by a man was far from an original Ashton touch - it's been done like that more often than not right from the start!

I've never seen any evidence that Ashton had seen the Lavrovsky version - I would think that their similarities arise not because Ashton saw Lavrovsky's but because both are derived from the same sources - Dauberval's original, and later additions which were known to both via different channels.

[This message has been edited by Jane Simpson (edited February 17, 2001).]

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Yes. I'd forgotten to mention Dauberval. Thanks, Jane. So many of these old ballets passed through the hands of several choreographers -- Paquita was not originally a Petipa ballet == amd often it was the mime and stage business that was kept and the dances that were changed. I hate leaving the impression that Ashton stole an older version and just added the chickens.

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Of course there was Dauberval before Petipa et. al. You don't think that I wouldn't know that, would you? wink.gif I saw the reconstruction that played Kennedy Center 10+ years ago. Quite charming.

And, yes, there were MARCELLINAs -- not 'Simones' - done en travestie before the 1885 Petipa & Ivanov Russian/Hertel edition. Please note that my point is about the greatness & importance of the most-often-performed Russian edition...the edition most often performed anywhere on earth, prior to Ashton. And - yes - there was a black-and-white film of the 1937 Maly-Lavrovsky edition (starring V. Rosenberg as Lise) making the rounds through Western Europe after WWII so it is not outside the realm of possibility that Mr. Ashton may have seen it. Who knows?

And please son't underestimate those adorable chickens! smile.gif

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Jeannie, which reconstruction did you see?

A few years ago, the Ballet du Rhin (when it still was a real ballet company) has staged a reconstruction of Ivo Cramer.

I didn't see it, and have no idea of how authentic and how interesting it was considered. I just saw a short excerpt of it in an open rehearsal, and it really made me feel like seeing more of it (but since then, the direction of the Ballet du Rhin has changed, and now they stage

only contemporary works frown.gif )

What a pity that Ashton's works are almost unknown in France! The POB performed "Rhapsody" around 4 years ago, and that's about all (I think the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse staged "Illuminations" a few years ago). I really don't know why no more of his works are staged in France

(one part of the problem might be that there aren't many French companies adding existing classical works to their repertories...)

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Estelle -

I saw the Bolshoi Ballet's "filial troupe" at the Alexandrinsky Theater in Leningrad/St. P. They have toured it extensively and, in fact, a Japanese televised video of this production exists.

As I mentioned earlier, a film (not video) of the 1937 Maly version (Lopukhov's original staging) also exists. Alas, the Maly dropped their fantastic staging in the 1970s, in favor of Oleg Vinogradov's revision, which is not my cup of tea but has an outrageously athletic pas de deux for Lise and Colin.

- Jeannie

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The Cramer reconstruction of Fille was absolutely charming. I saw it twice and would go to quite some trouble to see it again if the opportunity ever arose. And the dancers all sing!

By the way, you might be interested to know that the Gorsky version of Fille (Moscow 1918)is notated, at least in part. That uses the Hertel score and I've seen a pas de deux staged for a gala which looked very interesting. A production of the ballet which was done many years ago somewhere in what used to be Yugoslavia used real chickens - seemingly an old russian tradition. I gather they did what chickens tend to do and the smell was appalling.

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