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La Fille Mal Gardee – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Choreography: Frederick Ashton

Music: Ferdinand Herold (adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery)

Reviewer: Helen Tope

One of the oldest ballets in the world, La Fille Mal Gardee (The Wayward Daughter), is an 18th-Century wonder, re-imagined to create a timeless tale.

Seen here in its Frederick Ashton revival, La Fille tells the story of village girl Lise. Living with her mother, Widow Simone, Lise longs for love. She has just met Colas, a young farmer, and there is an instant connection. A boy loves a girl. All from here should be straightforward, but her mother has other ideas.

As a farm-owner, Widow Simone worries for her daughter’s future. Forging a partnership with landowner Thomas, Simone plans a future for Lise, free of care and toil. But Lise wants more than marrying Thomas’ son, Alain, will provide. Alain is awkward and hopelessly gauche, the chemistry just isn’t there. In matters of marriage, will the head win over the heart? 

Told in a simple pastoral style, Ashton places this French classic square in the British countryside. The evergreen of Constable’s landscapes form the backdrop to a small farming village. The rituals of daily life are marked by the rising and setting of the sun. Lise has chores to do – yards to sweep, butter to churn – but all she can do is dream.

Ashton’s richly inventive choreography lifts this classic tale into contemporary territory. The angular, punchy lines combined with bursts of lyricism give La Fille a warm, earthy touch. From the Harvest celebration, to ‘that’ clog dance, La Fille Mal Gardee is full of set pieces that charm and delight with equal measure. This is a ballet that is uncomplicated and filled with fun. Arch, considered beauty is for dying swans – here, beauty is laughter – and plenty of it.

La Fille Mal Gardee rests on the abilities of its performers, and as Widow Simone, Michael O’Hare performs with wit and verve. Borrowing from comic tradition, but making the frustrations of a mother all too clear, O’Hare gives us a character that moves beyond the balletic one-liner. As the mischievous teen, Maureya Lebowitz cleverly weaves touches into Lise’s character to make her instantly recognisable.

While it’s hard to upstage the gorgeous pony who features during the performance, Kit Holder, as Alain, just about manages it. Bold and dynamic, Holder gives us the acrobatics as Alain stumbles around the stage, but he also delivers a dramatic performance of a young man struggling to fit in. Always a step behind, and out of tune, Holder makes us feel for Alain, even when he stands in the way of true love. It rounds off a ballet that applies its characterisation with care.

La Fille is a ballet that wears its heart on its sleeve, and far from being old-fashioned, its candour makes it utterly refreshing. When a story is told this well, you really don’t need anything else. A modern classic that shows no signs of growing old, La Fille is a masterpiece that doesn’t need to try hard to make its point. Warm, witty and wise, immerse yourself in the world of La Fille Mal Gardee, and be seduced.

Saturday 13 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

Choreography: Frederick Ashton Music: Ferdinand Herold (adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery) Reviewer: Helen Tope One of the oldest ballets in the world, La Fille Mal Gardee (The Wayward Daughter), is an 18th-Century wonder, re-imagined to create a timeless tale. Seen here in its Frederick Ashton revival, La Fille tells the story of village girl Lise. Living with her mother, Widow Simone, Lise longs for love. She has just met Colas, a young farmer, and there is an instant connection. A boy loves a girl. All from here should be straightforward, but her mother has other ideas. As a farm-owner,…

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Pastoral bliss

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.