Choreography: Frederick Ashton
Freely adapted and arranged by: John Lanchbery
Music: Ferdinand Herold
Reviewer: Frances Scott
The Birmingham Royal Ballet is transporting audiences to a quaint community based on sunny Suffolk. The French ballet La Fille Mal Gardee(The Wayward Daughter) premiered in 1789 and was reworked by Fredrick Ashton in 1960, whose uniquely British blend has helped capture modern audiences. The productions alluring, rustic staging opens the Lowry to a cookie cutter world of the English countryside. Comic book backdrops of overdrawn painted sets, bundles of hay and cottages layer on a light-hearted atmosphere to the whimsical story.
We follow Lise, played by principal dancer Miki Mizutani, as she falls in love with the penniless farmhand Colas. Through three acts Lise is forced to battle between her mother’s attempts to marry her off to a wealthy vineyard owner and fight for her one true love. Its recognisable rivalry narrative is reinvigorated by the shows flamboyant characters, memorable dance numbers and its quirky pastoral setting. The Birmingham Royal’s impressive production may be shaped around a simple story but is deceptively effortless. Designed with imaginative props and a beautiful array of dance styles, this down-to-earth ballet comes complete with a live pony and a touch of Mary Poppins flying sorcery.
Beginning the story with prancing chickens and a cockerel, the dancers don oversized costumes and masks for a challenging opening number that harnesses the personality of the show. It’s a sharp, upbeat performance that introduces Lise, her posse of eight friends and her eccentric mother, who sweep through the narrative with virtuosity.
With its Clog Dance track reused in a 2015 Quality Streets Christmas ad, it’s quintessentially British ties, formed by choreographer, Ashton is as nostalgic as a Richard Curtis movie. Moulding a joyous collection of English folk dancing with reimagined classical ballet, the show opens itself to ballet novices who can sit back and enjoy the slapstick. As the production plays with the traditional images of yesteryear, the Birmingham Royal are able to showcase their huge company. The dancers tightly weave around a maypole, donning multicoloured ribbons, that are reworked into a duet between dancers Miki and Lachlan Monaghan. In a tender scene between the loved-up couple, the two romantically tie each other up in pink ribbon, a symbol that runs throughout the show.
Unlike most classical ballets, the demanding and creative choreography brings countless comedy moments, venturing away from drama, into the theatrical. Lise’s mother, Widow Simone played by Rory Mackay offers pure physical comedy, smacking Lise musically and chasing her around the farmyard. During the Lancashire clog dance, Simone and Lise’s friends go toe-to-toe, charmingly syncing their tap-dancing clogs to the live music from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. The polished performance is an exhaustive comedic mix of intricate and beautifully controlled moves. The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s sherbet coloured backdrop and inventive range of performances offer audiences a faultless feelgood hit, bound to impress.
Runs until Sat 27 October | Image: Contributed