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Royal Ballet, Friday's Fille

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I can't remember when I've been in an audience that was as "into" a ballet as tonight. They were happy from the first peck of the rooster, and there was even applause when the marriage contract was ripped up (Lise, the badly guarded daughter, is about to be married off to the Local Rich Boy, who is seriously maladjusted, instead of her True Love. But, surprise, everything works out).

I think "Fille" is one of the few perfect ballets in existence. I never quite remember that until I'm watching it, but it's so wonderfully constructed -- the balance of comedy and romance, the beautiful classical dancing and then the music hall dancing. It may end up being Ashton's most durable ballet. I have to say that tonight, I was underwhelmed by the dancing -- too many ghosts :) -- but it still worked.

Yoshida was especially good in the second act, I thought. For me, she's not strong enough for the first act "Elssler pas de deux," and I don't think she's a great comic. But the second act mime scene was charming, and her dancing in the scene where she's trying to dupe her mother was lovely, with lacy footwork. Her partner was Johan Persson and I did not think he danced well. I'll leave it at that.

The great performance tonight, for me, was Jonathan Howells as Alain. I only saw Alexander Grant (who created the role) at the end of his career, and although the characterization was marvelous, of course, the dancing was understandably muted. Howells is funny -- I think he could become a great clown -- and a very good dancer. Too often Alain is danced like the village idiot -- sometimes to the point it's cruel and uncomfortable to watch -- but Howells was the spoiled son of a rich farmer who'd been so sheltered he had no social graces and thought he was irresistible. He made Alain clever -- the moment he connects rain (which it seems he's never felt) with his umbrella, formerly only a hobby horse for him, was magic.

One complaint for me was Ashley Page's Widow Simone. He made her coarse and mean.

As for the company, they did something unforgivable -- they didn't sing at the end! When did that get cut?????

Three more Filles with different casts (about which I can't write here, as I'm reviewing them) but I hope there will be lots of others there who will report. Tonight seemed very close to sold out.

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Alexandra, I agree 100% with you about "Fille". I really love that ballet and never tire of seeing it. I only wish I could get to DC. I was fortunate enough to have seen the original cast: Nadia Nerina, David Blair, Alexander Grant, Stanley Holden and Leslie Edwards (I can't remember who the rooster was). I just adore the Elssler pdd and admire any Lise who can manage not to suffer acrophobia in that 1-hand lift at the end. I usually cry at the end of the ballet: it's so well constructed, the story is so enjoyable, there are so many little moments, details that are in it. It's just perfect.

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This Royal Ballet season just keeps looking up and up! Well, I didn't think I'd ever see a Lise to top Leslie Collier, Tina Leblanc (w/Joffrey), or Fiona Chadwick (saw the former on video; the latter two "live")...but Yoshida did it for me. The audience around me, in the 2nd tier 'cheap seats' (not-so-cheap $50-55), went nuts for both Yoshida (as Lise) and the all-smiling Swedish up-and-coming star, Johan Persson (Colin), throughout the ballet. They were adorable! I *adored* Yoshida's soubrette acting in Act I, as well as Act II. Just as with her Swanhilda in 'Coppelia,' Yoshida is, to me, the perfect sparkling soubrette actress and dancer! She possesses both solid technique (for florid terre-a-terre dancing) and comic acting abilities. Brava!

The 'character men' (Widow Simone, Alain, etc.) were a hoot...and the corps of Lise's Girlfriends and Villagers danced with precision. The Rooster and 'harem of hens' were incomparable! One more important 'player' must be noted: The audience rocked!!!!

On to my final FILLE -- tonight's casing of Sarah Wildor and the ABT guest star, Ethan Stiefel, in the title roles. Interesting comparisons with Yoshida/Persson, I hope. [Also, hopefully I can read reviews of the two matinees, today and Sunday. hint-hint!]

[ 06-09-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

[ 06-09-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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I'm very Glad to hear that RB are so appreciated there in the US, and are doing o well. I'm also glad that Yoshida is really shining over there too. I feel that she's not given enough to do over here.

I guarantee that Steifel and Wildor will give stunning performances as they did in London. I think they make a great couple and their qualities contrast nicely.

I'd of like to have seen Wildor in Margeruitte, any other suggestions for the role?


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Wildor and Steifel gave me goosebumps in La Fille, back in February. This was the one made me realise how wonderful and beautiful, not to mention how diverse ballet could be. I can't wait to hear the reviews for this performance.

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Originally posted by alexandra:

's Widow Simone.  He made her coarse and mean.

As for the company, they did something unforgivable -- they didn't sing at the end!  When did that get cut?????

I saw Fille when the RB performed it earlier this season and the singing was there. Some nights it wasn't very loud but it was there at all the shows I saw!

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Perhaps the dancers have lost their voices (too many parties) or have become shy!

It would be interesting to hear about Galeazzi as she is becoming one of my favourite dancers and I haven't seen her dance that role before. Perhaps it was her debut?

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I saw it this afternoon and thought it was totally delightful! Galeazzi was very right in the role, I think, and she has beautiful legs and feet and a jump to die for. :) I thought Kobburg was adorable, and his jump, as well as his turns, were exceptional. There were a few minor problems in the partnering, but nothing dreadful or that could not be attributed to first time in the role nerves.

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Originally posted by Shirley

It would be interesting to hear about Galeazzi as she is becoming one of my favourite dancers and I haven't seen her dance that role before.  [/QB]

Please tell me more about her! I thought she was absolutely wonderful--gorgeous feet, beautifully used; a lovely, light quality of movement; a charming comic touch. Can't remember having seen a better Lise. I was also struck by the fresh, natural quality of the corps women. What a marvelous a ballet La Fille Mal Gardee is on every level and what a wonderful afternoon of dance! Everyone in the audience, which included many small children, seemed to enjoy every moment. Wish you could have been there, Shirley.

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I absolutely adored Yoshida as Lise Friday on Friday night. She really does wonderfully in these kinds of comical works, and I enjoyed watching her lovely lovely smiles on stage. And what lovely lovely "light as feather" footwork!! Yoshida doesn't have the most beautiful arch but she makes her feet look gorgeous with her crispy footwork. Persson really didn't leave much of an impression on me I must say...but the ballet was just great!! It's a beautiful masterpiece and a comedy that I would love to see again and again.

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Last night (Saturday, 6/9 eve.) indeed saw a wonderful pairing of Wildor and Stiefel in the leads. Stiefel was particularly brilliant, in both technique and comic acting abilities. While I am a big Wildor fan -- and happen to think that she has one of the most stunning faces in ballet -- I was a tad disappointed by her dancing, when compared to all of the ladies I've seen in the far- or recent-past (noted above, in my post on Friday's performance). Quite simply, Wildor has more cotton than steel in her points (as if a Sylph is 'going country' for a week-end)...then again, it's hard to find anyone with the crisp, "taquatee" pointe work of Collier and Yoshida. Wildor muddied many of the allegro, filligreed footwork phrases in Act I but she did improve as the night went on.

Stiefel was spectacular, especially in that dance with the two bottles of wine, in front of the Entr'Acte curtain (between acts I and II).

The lead character dancers (portraying Widow Simone and Alain) were too over-the-top for my taste. I give my "Personal Honors" in those two roles to the dancers who I saw in the Joffrey version in the 1980s -- Stanley Holden as Simone and Mark Goldweber as Alain. They're really hard to erase from my memory. [To Samba38 and others who'd like more 'meat' to such comparisons: It would take an essay to properly explain comparisons...but it's a blend of artistry, technique, comic timing.]

The Rooster and Four Hens, once again, dazzled the DC audience. They even received an ovation in the middle of their Act I opening number. [Question: Have their costumes been redone? They seem brighter than what I recall seeing at Covent Garden 7-8 years ago. Ditto the dresses for Lise's eight friends...something different in the costumes.]

Finally, a word about the corps. The corps de ballet of the RB is at a very high point in its life at present (not just my opinion but that of experts writing in the UK magazine, 'Dancing Times,' plus comments on ballet.co.uk website). I am only sorry that we've been able to enjoy them, here in DC, only in FILLE, as the mixed-bill of works, earlier, offered very little corps dancing. *Special note to our member, PaulW -- I was so happy to spot your lovely, expressive niece as a villager...first row, audience-right in the initial dance with sickles. She's looking great!

What a 'felicitous' tour (for my favourite Financial Times critic) this has been! I hope that we can welcome the Royals back to DC soon!

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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I second all praise of Yoshida's exquisitely clear, crisp classical footwork and mischeveious acting but I want to focus on another aspect mentioned above. The corps dancing is one of the great treats of the Royal's visit here -- a real education in precision, artistry and musicality to young dancers -- and some old mamas -- in the audience who have seen some pretty raggedy corps work on this stage recently (bad memories of ABT's frenzied swans coliding with each other). So many teens idolize the NYCB that you wonder if they've ever seen a great corps not on video? Dancers who don't perform as individuals seeing to snag attention but as but essentials in creation of a whole event?One reason is that the Royal "corps" excells may be that it is toploaded with people who are first soloists and could be principals elsewhere. At least one is heading home to Australian Ballet to be a principal next season.

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Originally posted by Ginny:

Please tell me more about her! I thought she was absolutely wonderful--gorgeous feet, beautifully used; a lovely, light quality of movement; a charming comic touch. Can't remember having seen a better Lise. I was also struck by the fresh, natural quality of the corps women. What a marvelous a ballet La Fille Mal Gardee is on every level and what a wonderful afternoon of dance! Everyone in the audience, which included many small children, seemed to enjoy every moment. Wish you could have been there, Shirley.

Sounds like I missed a great show!

Mara joined the company in 1992 and got promoted to First Soloist in 2000. Since then she has danced quiet a few more prominant roles. Juliet, Third Song in Song of the Earth, quite a major role in This House will Burn (Ashley Page) Monotones and quite a few others - mainly this season I may add. She has great feet as you said , a wonderful jump and and I find her very dramatic as well!

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I saw Saturday afternoon’s performance and I was totally delighted. I hope Alexandra won’t condemn me for agreeing with her, that this is the closest I know to a perfect ballet: loving, witty, charming, yet never trivial. The two hours I spent seemed to pass in a minute. And afterward, I wished that the whole thing could have been longer.

I was also delighted by the quality of the dancing. My only source of comparison are the two most recent videos: the Royal ballet w/ Leslie Collier and Michael ??? and Alexander Grant, and the sadly undercommitted, undistinguished one by the Australian Ballet. The Australian Ballet performance only showed me that this ballet can be undone, if the performers aren’t committed and in-sync.

Mara Galeazzi danced as though she’s done this role for years (maybe she has), with precision and fluidity (better in the last respect, I thought, than Leslie Collier). Her arms were lovely, but I noticed an odd rigidity in her hands, which sometimes seemed flat-fingered rather than gracefully curved. She executed complex stepwork with absolute finesse. I found her dancing in the Act I, Scene 1 dance with the farm girls to be just about perfect. She does indeed have a beautiful jump and she can do it without seeming to prepare, like a bird taking off. Her footwork in the Act II Tambourine Dance also impressed me. I love the music in this part – a delightful theme and variations – and she seemed to be dancing on air. (Sorry if these are cliches, I can’t think of any better way of putting it.) I don’t think the audience appreciated what they were seeing, because she got only the one curtain call, and I think she deserved many.

She was also a very good comedienne, but still not as good an actor as a dancer, and I think one of the results of this was that the audience didn’t warm up to her as much as they might have otherwise. Of course, it could have been the audience, or me, or where my seat was, etc. It also may have been the slightly undercharacterised performance of Colas, by Johan Kobborg. This made the love between Lise and Colas a respectable staged presentation, but there needs to be a little more ardor to get the audience actually to love the dancers back.

Kobborg was also technically very strong. He’s also quite handsome and one could easily believe Lise would fall for him. He seemed to me an almost faultless partner and did his leaps and spins beautifully. But, there was something just not “there” about the pairing of this Lise and Colas. It may have been the dancers or may have been other production choices.

Alain, as danced by Giacomo Ciriaci was very fine. He may have danced just slightly too well to seem quite the dunce he’s supposed to be, however. He seemed a more gentle, sweet fellow than the Alain that Alexander Grant played in the video, but there was nothing wrong with that.

The corp were fantastic. That so many people could dance so many interesting steps, with such energy, vigor and precision is a large part of what made the ballet so wonderful.

Luke Heydon played the Widow Simone very broadly, more so than Brian Shaw in the old video. This production seemed to emphasize the physical comedy parts of her (his) role, with a somersault and a skidding exit on the clog dance (it wasn’t there as far as I can tell in the video), which was really good fun.

(Now for the negative parts.) But in the wedding scene, instead of having Colas catch Simone sideways after she “cuts a caper, ” he catches her by the breasts as Simone slips backwards, which is still funny, but a bit cheap.

Another unfortunate change has been commented on before on this board. In the old video (and I presume the original production) after Lise discovers Colas has witnessed her fantasies of wedded bliss, Colas assuages the embarrassment Lise feels by miming that he feels the same way about marriage and kids. In the newer version I saw, Colas rubs Lise’ embarrassment in, miming “Oh, so you want three babies?!” Colas just seems meaner for this, and it undermines the audience’s sense of the trust and love they should have. The next part, where Colas kisses the distressed Lise on the wrist, then the elbow, then the arm, as a consequence becomes a seduction, not a reassurance of love as it seemed to me it was in the original production.

I now wish I hadn’t spent so many words on what wasn’t wonderful in this production, because this was a great theatrical and artistic experience. If any show could bring in kids and families like Nutcracker, this is it. I just wonder why we don’t see it every other year in the US, instead of every other decade.

[ 06-11-2001: Message edited by: 4Ts ]

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4Ts, I graciously allow people to agree with me on even-numbered days, so you're safe ;)

Seriously, thanks for taking the time to write this. I'm under a self-imposed gag order until my review of the Saturday and Sunday performances runs (Tuesday, I hope), but I'm very happy to read others.

Was anyone else there this weekend? Bard's Ballerina, you've been quiet :) Juliet?

Many thanks to Jeannie, Terry, Ginny (hello again!), Samba and Victoria for writing, and for our English friends for adding helpful commentary and answering questions.

The Royal is headed for Boston, I believe. I hope many of the people who checked the board regularly during the recent Boston Ballet/Gielgud matter will post and tell us how things are going up there.

p.s. For trivia fans, they certainly sang Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

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No, it's Michael Coleman - long past his best, unfortunately, when the video was made.

Galeazzi, by the way, did Lise for the first time a couple of years ago when the RB were appearing at the Royal Festival Hall. I can't remember how many performances she did - maybe only one; I missed seeing her but heard good reports from friends. She wasn't cast in the recent run at the ROH.

It's an interesting piece of casting, as she's more usually used in dramatic roles - she's one of several soloists who have obvious talents but who haven't really yet found their place in the repertoire. A challenge for Ross Stretton, perhaps?

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Originally posted by 4Ts:

[QB]I saw Saturday afternoon’s performance and I was totally delighted. [QB]

A wonderful review, which has added to the pleasure I took in the performance--many thanks! You write very perceptively and accurately about the relationship between Lise and Colas, pointing out some things that I'd noticed but not yet processed into words. Like you, I wish Galeazzi had gotten the crowd response she deserved.

Now I can hardly wait to see Alexandra's review. Tomorrow's Post can't come too soon for me!

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Quick notes on Saturday evening:

Wildor was delightful--very well acted with just enough Bad Girl, but not teetering on the edge of petulance. I have no complaints about her technique or lack of stilettos in her pointe shoes....I thought she was lively and right on the mark in everything.

I am not a huge fan of Stiefel, but he was certainly born to play Colas, and play it magnificently he did. His acting and interplay with Wildor were a high point for me--tenderness and subtlety are not always translated over the footlights, and this is a great part of Ashton's appeal for me. This pair was in love and danced it very well--I loved the cat's cradle dance and the gentleness with which he consoled her after her embarrassment in the second act.....these are adult artists and they know how to demonstrate the nuances of love.

The corps was superb, and I must say that it is no less than I expect from this company and I am delighted not to be disappointed during this visit.....they were just wonderful and I am so sad not to have a chance to see the Swan Lake (although I give the barnyard flock very high marks for a well-crafted performance!!!!)

I had only one major disappoinnntment and that was the way Alain was depicted...I really don't see this character as the village booby. I was very, very uncomfortable with this portrayal--I only saw it for one performance, but so broad were the strokes that I am afraid that this is the general tone of this characterization now. Haplessness is not the same as fodder for ridicule of a particularly nasty sort.

It was a beautiful production, familiar, but brightened and spruced up--the lighting was particularly well done.....altogether a satisfying and joyous way to spend a June evening.

[ 06-11-2001: Message edited by: Juliet ]

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Thank you for all these wonderful reviews; I've loved reading them. I mean, they are wonderful reviews for the Royal Ballet, but they are also wonderfully written, fresh, direct and heartfelt. (I sometimes think that Ashton is more valued and understood in the US than here in his own homeland, but perhaps that's just me).

One little disappointment; nobody seems to have reviewed the Sunday performance with Belinda Hatley and Stuart Cassidy. Did anybody see it and can they comment?

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Seeing four performances of "La Fille mal gardee" left me with a very different impression of the company than I had from watching the opening night triple bill. I'm saddened by the internationalization, because to me, watching the sameness creeping through the ballet world is like watching the destruction of the rain forest.

HOWEVER, I thought the presentation of "Fille" showed that there are still people at the Royal who coach with care. I thought this was a very well-tended production; it was done with love.

Having seen all four of them, if I had to choose a cast to recommend to someone who's never seen the ballet and is interested in the ballet, I'd go with Belinda Hatley and Stuart Cassidy. I didn't think Hatley's dancing was the strongest, but the two at least matched.

Some things about the ballet that they made me see:

1. That the cat's cradle was a game they'd played frequently. A metaphor for love, but something they really enjoyed doing. They did it slowly and lovingly, not hastily, worried that they'd do something wrong and it wouldn't work. Many of the movements, without the ribbons, reappear in the adagio of the first act pas de deux, and I noticed that for the first time, in dozens of times viewing the ballet.

2. Mime things. I don't know how often Cassidy has done Colas, but I had the sense that he'd grown up watching the ballet. Why does this matter? Simply because he knows it from watching it. If you learn to carve a goose from watching your father do it, you'll have all kinds of little touches someone who learns this from a book or video will never match.

For example: when Widow Simone throws things out the window at Colas, the other Colas's ducked at eveything. Cassidy made the scene funnier by really reacting. The first four (cabbages?) weren't lethal, just messy. He ducked, but didn't scramble. Everyone else ducked with equal vigor when she threw the nightcap, but Cassidy saw it coming and stood there, with his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Oh, please." Then when she picked up the flower pot, he knew that could hurt, and he got out of the way. For those bored by mime and who put up with it to get to the dancing bits, this is an irrelevant detail, but for those who see mime as part of the fabric of the ballet, it's crucial. It's the 56 moments like this that make up the ballet; if they're gone, it looks thin. (This, to me, is the one great difference now between ABT and the Royal. ABT tosses out the little touches -- or puts in unicorns :) )

Also, the way he acted in the picnic scene, really listening to the bells, counting them, then announcing, "It's quitting time," made me think of him as not just another farmer, but the foreman -- Kobborg did this too, but not as clearly.

On other casts, I thought Kobborg's dancing was the best stylistically. He's got the Ashton epaulement down, as well as the kneeling backbends (which also came up in his roles in Rendezvous and Symphonic). He also made distinctions among the different kinds of pirouettes that the others couldn't, or didn't do -- they smoothed them out. There's a series of pirouettes in the first act where the working foot (the foot that's not on the ground) hits the leg at different places: knee, calf, ankle. Very hard, especially hard to do cleanly. Persson just smudged them so they looked messy (but everything he did, to me, looked messy. The flapping foot and drooping leg in his grands pirouettes a la seconde...) Stiefel did a lot of pirouettes -- brilliant, but not Ashton.

Galeazzi was not my ideal Lise -- she's a beanpole and her dancing was all over the place. The wildness in the jumps was appealing, but I want more polish in the arms and upper body. HOWEVER I thought her acting was extraordinary. To me, she had the best comic timing. She uses her eyes -- you can actually see them -- and knows how to hold back, just for a second, to have a gesture register. Her relationship with the mother (Luke Heydon) was especially detailed. This Lise was a pistol, as we'd say, and that mother had been running after her, two steps behind, if not five, since she could crawl. The whole ballet turned into a chess game between them with first one, then the other, having the upper hand, and it was grand fun.

Although Kobborg and Galeazzi were a bad physical and stylistic match, I thought the fact that they were total opposites in character worked. Kobborg made a distinction between public and private (I think this is the Danishness). His tenderness was saved for the second act, when the two are alone. I had a different take on the "Three children?" mime. I thought he did it so sweetly that it was to be reassuring. "So it's *three* children we will have?", almost a proposal. And I saw a great tenderness in the arm kissing scene.

Of the Lises, I'd go for Wildor, and she'd be my nominee for the ballerina on whom Ashton would be most likely to choreograph, were he still around. One of the things that explains how so many different people, sitting side by side, can have different opinions of the same performance is that we all value different things, and I value musicality above almost anything. (I can't think of a musical dancer who has a sin that overrides the musicality, for me.) I also thought Wildor was the only one of these four who "built" the dancing. One of the old tests for ballerinadom was that the ballerina revealed more of herself as the ballet progressed, and I thought Wildor did that beautifully. At the end, her dancing said "they will live happily ever after," because it would be impossible for someone who was as radiant, as confident, and as transcendentally beautiful to ever dance, or live, any other way.

I'll write on the Alains, Widows and Roosters later.

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I am so glad you enjoyed Wildor's performance, Alexandra. For me, as well, she is a true Ashton dancer, and the one who most reassures me that we in Britain have not quite lost the Ashton touch! I have enjoyed reading all the reviews and opinions. What a wonderful thing the Web is!

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Thanks for all the reviews folks, especially yours Alexandra on the 4 casts.

Stuart Cassidy has recently come back to the RB so I'm not sure when he would have last danced Colas. Also when the RB performed their most recent run of Fille in London I thought Belinda Hatley gave the best alround performance of all the casts I saw.

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