La Fille Mal Gardee review at Royal Opera House – ‘warming, cheerful and charming’
Frederick Ashton’s light-hearted evocation of provincial life, La Fille Mal Gardee, has been a favourite of the Royal Ballet since its first performance in 1960. It tells the story of Lise, the “wayward daughter” of wealthy farm owner Widow Simone, who is eager to outwit her mother’s plans of a prosperous marriage in favour of her lover, Colas.
From the moment the hens and their strutting cockerel awake, it’s easy to see why this colourful, comic ballet is still so loved. Ribbon dances and a lively Maypole scene see the dancers forming playful tangles while Lise’s hapless suitor Alain, the endearingly gawky Paul Kay, springs around like a May lamb. A joyful, bright-costumed corps of hardworking haymakers fill the stage with rustic charm.
Laura Morera dances the mischievous Lise with a disarming cheeriness. She finds a fine balance between flirtation and innocence, quick to seek out any opportunity to be with Colas, while occasionally shying from his frequent kisses with girlish embarrassment. Morera brings expressiveness and humour to the role, notably when scolding her imaginary children in the Act II mime scene, while her careful execution of Ashton’s tricky choreography gives her performance a deceptive simplicity. In many ways that is the beauty of this ballet. It captures a blithe easiness, yet is full of detail.
Vadim Muntagirov is ideal as Lise’s good-looking, boyish lover. His confident, smiling character is easy to like and he performs the role’s leaps and turns with assurance and strength.
However it is Thomas Whitehead as Widow Simone who, with a touch of the pantomime dame and the impeccable comic timing of his clog dance, comes close to stealing the show. He relishes his role, even in the curtain call. Not even Peregrine the pony can match him.