West Australian Ballet: La Fille mal gardée -
His Majesty's Theatre, 5 September -
Opening nights at Perth's historic His Majesty's Theatre always generate a sense of occasion. With David McAllister, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet and Li Cunxin, Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet in the house, the 'barre' was raised even higher for the première production of French choreographer Marc Ribaud's La Fille mal gardée, a co-production between West Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet. The dancers of West Australian Ballet did not let their audience, the choreographer, or their own Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella down, producing an entertaining evening of romance, humour, larger-than-life characters, a touch of pathos, some standout performances and a joyous ending.
La Fille mal gardée is one of the oldest ballets still performed today. The original Jean Dauberval version premièred in 1789 in Bordeaux to a score based on popular French tunes of the day and the idea for the story is thought to have come from an engraving of a painting by Pierre-Antoine Baudouin depicting a mother reprimanding her daughter. Sir Frederick Ashton's popular 1960 revival was to John Lanchbery's adaptation of Ferdinand Hérold's 1828 score, with passages also from the original Bordeaux score of 1789.
Ribaud uses the same charming John Lanchbery music, with conductor Myron Romanul expertly guiding West Australian Symphony Orchestra's rich and full-bodied sound and, although Ribaud sets his production in rural France in the 1950s, he retains the original story of a young couple determined to marry despite opposition from the girl's widowed mother. His choreographic style is classically-based with the addition of some flexed feet and unexpected transitions, and it serves the music and narrative well.
Richard Roberts' designs make maximum use of the stage-space, creating pastoral settings and an inspired sky-blue front cloth with 'La Fille', a tiny heart dotting the 'i', written across the sky, and a small 1950s plane just visible in the distance, with Jon Buswell’s lighting effectively bringing these elements to life. Lexi De Silva's costume designs are mostly in accord and true to the time with circular skirts, jeans, denim overalls, and T-shirts.
There are many highlights and lots of dancing in Ribaud's Fille including Colas (Sergey Pevnev) and Lise (Sarah Hepburn) sharing an illicit and ardent dawn rendezvous outside Lise's mother Simone's (Craig Lord-Sole 'en travesti') farmhouse, a good-natured parody of Ashton's well-loved Dance of the Cock and Hens by Colas' 'Friends' (Yusuke Hikichi, Daniel Roberts, Alessio Scognamiglio, and Alexandre Dahms), and the effective integration of the same four 'Friends' into sections of the Fanny Elssler pas de deux, and they then showed their versatility as tap dancers, joining Simone's Clog Dance as Lord-Sole milked the audience and instructed the conductor, drawing huge cheers. The teal-coloured Vespa bringing wine-merchant Thomas (Robert Mills) and his son Alain (Andre Santos) to woo Lise was coveted by many in the audience, and Alain's preoccupation with his green umbrella provided many comic moments. And stunning the crowd was a black Ducati ridden with impressive speed across the stage by a black leather-clad Pevnev. Some of the group dancing seemed repetitious, especially on the smallish stage, but this was counterbalanced to some extent by the high-octane performances of the dancers and orchestra.
Pevnev gave an outstanding all-round performance as Colas and created energy and vitality whenever he was on stage. Andre Santos danced with his usual brilliance and was in turn hilarious and heart breaking as the eccentric Alain. Lanky, bespectacled and waggish Craig Lord-Sole as Simone threatened to steal the show, and Sarah Hepburn succeeded in creating a believable, loving, and good-natured Lise. The ballet's conclusion saw the overjoyed young lovers finally getting Simone's blessing, a jubilant Alain locating his misplaced umbrella thus overcoming his disappointment at failing to win Lise's heart, and cheers and applause from a very appreciative audience.
- Margaret Mercer