For an evening of chocolate-box charm and easy balletic delights, there is nothing better than Sir Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee. The Royal Ballet’s storybook production, with its faded pastel backdrops and real-live miniature pony, captures this irresistible quaintness with a gleeful indulgence.
Though past his physical and technical prime, Carlos Acosta (as Colas) is welcomed on stage with much-deserved enthusiasm from the audience. He may look heavier in his jumps and occasionally a little too laid back to be rapt with young love, yet his turns remain luscious and his relaxed rapport with Marianela Nunez’s Lise is cosily reassuring, if not thrilling.
Nunez, on the other hand, is absolutely at the peak of her game. Her ease on stage is the result of a near-flawless technique and an all-encompassing joy that emanates from deep within. Her fluttering petite bateau, breezy jetes and giggling bourees all appear as natural extensions of a genuine, fizzy excitement and a mischievous, girlish delight.
The deliciously underplayed star of the evening, however, has to be William Tuckett as Widow Simone. Feminine without veering into drag territory, he blusters and blunders about the stage like an agitated mother hen, fleshing out his character with a miracle of minute comedic nuances. His antagonistic relationship with Lise is wholly believable and his performance of the clog dance must surely rank among the best.
The company are uniformly excellent throughout, yet having seen them in their most recent contemporary triple-bill (Polyphonia/Sweet Violets/Carbon Life), it is interesting to note how much more alive the dancers, especially the corps de ballet, seem in new work.