Robert Tanitch reviews La Fille mal gardée at Royal Opera House, London WC2
La fille mal gardée – it sounds very French and a bit naughty. But Frederick Ashton’s ballet could not be more English and pure. Set in bucolic England, it was, at its premiere in 1960, a nice antidote to all the kitchen sink dramas on stage and film.
The ballet, pretty and charming, sweet and innocent, lyrical and sentimental, whimsical and farcical, was an immediate success with critics, public and especially little girls who love Shetland ponies.
Marie Rambert hailed the ballet as the first great English classic
A widow’s daughter falls in love with a young farmer and thwarts her mother’s plans to marry her off to the idiot son of a wealthy farmer.
Undemanding for the audience, Ashton’s choreography is, notoriously. extremely demanding for the dancers. The production is excellently danced
Natalia Osipova is very girly. Steven McRae is very boyish. Evenly matched, fleet of foot, they make a tender and affectionate couple. They have a sense of humour. There are some dazzling leaps and spins, pirouettes and levitations; but there’s no sex before marriage.
There’s no eroticism, as there was with Carlos Acosta, who made his butter churning moment as explicit as Patrick Swaze and Demi Moore made their moment with a pottery wheel in the film, Ghost.
There are some delightful dances with scythes, sticks and particularly pretty pink ribbons which are put to a variety of pretty uses. The lovers, twining and ducking, create a cat’s cradle.
The maypole dance is expertly executed. The cockerel and his hens are straight out of a 1930’s revue.
The Widow (Thomas Whitehead) has a clog dance, a classic music hall turn in the tradition of the great Dan Leno, the greatest pantomime dame and champion clog dancer of the world.
Some may find La Fille mal gardée just a bit too twee but a far greater number of people are going to love it and rightly so. It’s a happy, joyful occasion.