"La Fille mal gardée"
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
21 April - 20 May, 2006

"La Fille mal gardée" and Stravinsky Celebration
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome
4 - 13 May, 2006

by John Percival
copyright ©2006, John Percival

I have just seen two performances of "La Fille mal gardée" in one day. Great — you can't have too much of a good thing. But let me add that the matinee was danced by Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome, while the evening show came from the other Royal Ballet company at Covent Garden, a ninety minute train journey away (plus taxis to and from the rail stations). That easily beats my previous two-bill record, in Paris some years back, when I watched Paul Taylor's company dance his "Aureole" in a suburban arts theatre, then raced to catch the same work given by the Ballet de l'Opéra at the Palais des Sports.

And who did "Fille" better? Birmingham, actually. In fairness, London was putting out a new cast, with Laura Morera, Ricardo Cervera and Giacomo Ciriaci as Lise, Colas and Alain. The men, both rather short (just tall enough for Morera), did their dances reasonably well but showed little character. She was clearly trying to play the role but her acting and dancing looked like separate entities rather than one continuous whole. With Philip Mosley a nondescript Widow Simone, it was left to David Drew's cheery Thomas and to young Paul Kay as the flute-player in the ensembles (he does Alain some nights — that, I'd like to see) to brighten the evening. Whereas Birmingham has, in Robert Parker, quite clearly the best Colas around nowadays. He looks right, rustically handsome, with fair hair and a winning smile. He dances right: strong and crisp. He partners handsomely, projects a warm friendly personality, and I have only one complaint about his acting: we really don't need the newly introduced joke, after Lise's miming of her hopes for marriage, of suggesting five children instead of the three she imagined. His Lise on this occasion was the enchanting Nao Sakuma: a lovely dancer with a real sense of the character and nice touches of humour.

Christopher Larsen's Alain isn't the funniest or most subtle portrait but he performs the role well enough. Likewise, we've seen Widow Simone given more richness of detail than David Morse manages, but his performance is very much on the right lines: not imitating a woman but making his movements credibly feminine, and affectionate too. Jonathan Payn makes a youngish but jovially assured Thomas, the supporting ensembles are well up to scratch, and the company's own orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under Paul Murphy gives John Lanchbery's after-Hérold score lots of colour and variety.

Need I mention that Ashton's ballet is a joy anyway? Hardly, but it does strike me how joyful he makes every detail; would any other ballet-maker have won applause at every performance by the ingenious idea of making the lovers play cat's cradle with their pink ribbon?

One week previously, BRB had made its second annual contribution to Birmingham's Stravinsky Celebration. The one creation on this triple bill was a disappointment; why waste the lovely music and the character potentialities of "Pulcinella" by giving them to Kim Brandstrup, a choreographer who may be keen on telling stories but has a gift for messing them up? (Example: in the interval of his two-act treatment of "Hamlet", a whole group of us, all experienced dance watchers, were quite unable to work out what point in the plot we had reached.) Notable designs have helped some of his previous works, but this time Steve Scott produced a gloomy setting, just an absurdly dark room, and Kandis Cook's drab costumes didn't help. Despite putting some of the company's finest dancers in solo roles, headed by Robert Parker and Ambra Vallo, he gives no point to their steps. The best way of enduring this "Pulcinella" was probably with eyes firmly closed, listening to three decent solo singers and to Barry Wordsworth's ensemble.

But the programme had to be enjoyed for its other two works. The company first did Balanchine's "Apollo" in 2003, and it comes up marvellously fresh. From three casts I saw Parker and Chi Cao in the title part, both good. Long-legged young Jenna Roberts pleased more than Elisha Willis as Terpsichore, and I admired very much the polish and balance which whoever rehearsed the ballet had won from Angela Paul and Carol Anne Millar as the other two muses.

Completing the show was this company's premiere of "The Firebird" in an anonymous but excellent staging of Fokine's choreography. Students from Elmhurst School for Dance (based now in Birmingham) and from the Royal Ballet School had to make up the numbers for this very large cast, but both performances I saw were fine. The Goncharova designs looked great, and among the dancers Nao Sakuma made an outstanding Firebird, great in character and style. Both Iain Mackay and Chi Cao caught Ivan Tsarevitch's role well, and Silvia Jimenez lived up to her character's title as The Beautiful Tsarevna. But it was the complete performance, from everyone concerned, that really impressed.

Let me mention, briefly and finally, that not long beforehand I had seen with admiration a couple of performances by BRB of its "Sleeping Beauty" on tour to the New Theatre, Oxford, including a delicious Aurora from Moscow-born (and trained) Viktoria Walton. Appearing at short notice through a colleague's injury, she gave a lovely showing that makes me want to see more of her talent and presence. What a company this is: always something special to enjoy.

Volume 4, No. 19
May 15, 2006

copyright ©2006 John Percival



©2006 DanceView