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La Fille mal Gardee

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On friday, I went to see the National revive Ashton's classic, "La Fille Mal Gardee". Prior to the performance, Alexander Grant gave a 'Ballet Talk', hosted by dance critic and historian Penelope Reed Doob. The discussion was short, but interesting, as Grant's charisma and personality are conveyed through his speaking as it was in his dancing (I never saw him on stage, but can only imagine that he must have been an excellent dancer and actor). He talked about the privilege he had to work closely with Sir Frederick Ashton. Much of what he said echoed what I heard from Karen Kain when she gave a master class based on Ashton's style in Jan. Ashton never went to the studio with steps prepared, choreographing was a collaborative process, and he was open to ideas that the dancers had. He always brought out the dancers' best qualities and made sure everyone 'looked good'. Ashton would listen to the music on end for months before creating a ballet. He always knew exactly what sort of mood suited the music, and how the steps should express that. After watching "Fille", this was evident to me. Grant also discussed his artistic directorship of the NBoC during the 70's, how he expanded the repertoire to include Ashton, Tetley, Robbins, Bejart, and MacMillan into the repertoire, as well as encouraging young choreographers, among them James Kudelka! He also gave candid acounts of how he was the pioneer of male pointework as Bottom in "The Dream"! He had great difficultly finding shoes that were large enough, and finally found a pair at Capezio's in NYC, which to his delight were 'Pavlovas'! Speaking about "Fille", the ballet is clearly one that is close to his heart, as it is to many balletgoers. In his own words, "It's a happy ballet, and one should leave the theatre feeling happy, as if you've just had a glass of champagne." Grant has staged Fille for the Stuttgart and the Bolshoi, and will go on to do so for the Boston Ballet.

"Fille" indeed did lift my spirits as Grant had promised! I had reservations about a ballet with dancing chickens, but it was a sheer delight from start to finish (jumping hens included!). The naive setting, fairy-tale story, and bright country dancing were exactly what Torontonians needed on such a dreary winter evening. Ashton truly understood how to please an audience. He also built on all the subtle nuances of music and narrative. Though I am not usually a fan of mime, that which appears in "Fille" is so perfectly timed and comical that it does not feel boring or old as it can when overdone. The story unfold smoothly and clearly, making it a great hit with the younger audience members as well. (The theatre this weekend was much fuller than with last week's mixed program). I was sorry when Lise and Colas danced their wedding pdd, knowing that the ballet was soon coming to an end.

The dancing on both friday and saturday's performances was superb. One cannot imagine a better Lise than Martine Lamy who also danced the role over 10 years ago. Hers is delightfully mischevious, just a bit of a coquette. Lamy has proven herself as a great comic actress with a lot of wit. Every detail is thought out and perfectly in character, even when Lise is not the centre of attention. Technically, she posesses wonderful ballon, delicate pointework, and steely balances (especially the slow promenade in attitude derriere, supported only by the ribbons of the maypole). Sonia Rodriguez is charmingly sweet as Lise. Her adagio movements are especially confident, and arabesque penchees seem second nature to her. Her dancing is light and joyous, accented by dainty hops en pointe.

The role of Colas was danced by Piotyr Stanczyk and Keiichi Hirano, both just promoted to 2nd soloist in the last year. Both were graceful partners, and seized the opportunity to shine in this leading role. Piotyr danced on opening night, and was extremely well-recieved by the newspapers. His jubilant dancing was the surprise of the evening. Stanczyk has gained more confidence and conistency and it is a joy to watch him grow as a performer. Though he is not equal with Lamy in acting, he received a loud burst of applause for his turning sequence of pirouettes a la second and in attitude. His jumps, line, and extension have improved greatly, and the same can also be said of Hirano. Hirano brings to the role, personality and technical ease. His Colas is immediately likeable. His dancing had spectacular moments (entrelaisses, and quick double tours) but some less certain ones. He is still a bit of an on/off dancer, but it was a good debut and I'm glad Kudelka noticed his potential when casting him.

Philip Lau was hillarious as Alain, petrified and maladroit. His facial expressions and movements were deliciously over the top. Daisuke Ohno was also a great comedian in the role.

The corps looked great. The looked like they were having so much fun, I almost wished I was up there dancing with them!

Finally, one can't forget the Widow Simone. Tomas Schramek is an asset to the company, one of the most talented character artists I've ever seen. The clog dance was hoot!

"Fille" closed today, so I hope that some other posters had the chance to see it. Judging for these performances, as well as last season's "Monotones I and II", Ashton's spirit is still very much alive at the NBoC.

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I would generally agree with Paquita's assessment of the Friday Fille. Martine is a wonderful Lise, I'd probably rate her with Karen Kain who might well have been the best Lise the National has had (and there have been a few). I wasn't as favourably impressed with Piotr's dancing. Except for the brutal turns in the final variations he seemed poorly matched. Not surprising his dancing lacks subtlety, he lacks stamina (I didn't think he was going to make it through the first pas de deux but perhaps that was nerves) and he lacks the ability to make Colas believable (which admittedly is a tall order). I longed to see Martine with more of an equal. But I do agree that it is a ballet that has served the company well and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it after its 10 year hiatus.

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I'm also late to report about Fille. I saw cast with Greta Hodgkinson and Aleksandar Antonijevic as leads. I loved both of them in the roles (I believe it was their first time dancing them, since Fille wasn't on the NBoC's repertory for almost last ten years). Two of them are wonderful dancers, but there were couple of visibly difficult moments even for such strong technicians ( Colas's second solo and that killer one-arm lift of Lise - although went well , it looked like it almost could have been problem). Nevertheless, their chemistry was perfect and they looked like they were truly crazy about each other. Greta was specially believable with her little teenager-like idiosyncrasies.

The whole ensemble was magnificent and looked like having lot of fun dancing ballet. Alexander Grant did magnificent work staging it and inspiring cast.

I have to highlight Matijash Mrozewsky as my favourite dancer of the evening (in role of Widow Simone). He was not only hilarious (without making a caricature of the character) but also so charming at moments, that you had to love the obnoxious mother (sort of like you'd feel about Estelle Harris's character in Seinfeld). (Incidentally, Mrozewsky was also a wonderful Bottom in Ashton's Dream two years ago. And this is definitely his month in Toronto- besides his work for National, he has a very interesting modern piece for Toronto Dance Theatre, if you can- go and see it.)

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I would have been very happy to have seen Matjash as the Widow. He was a riot as one of the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella.

I wonder if this was a last minute casting replacement for Jeremy Ransom (who was supposed to dance the role) or if he was always cast in the role? It must have been a bit nerve wracking to be rehearsing his new piece with TDT by day and dancing (and rehearsing) the Widow at the same time.

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Hi jer468,

Matijash was announced on the casting list when it first came out. I'm not sure when was that decided though. I know that prior to that casting information it has already been announced that Jeremy Rensom is taking leave from NBoC. I'm sure he would have been great (or that he was great if he danced the role when it was on National's repertory before, I'm not sure of that).

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