The Birmingham Royal Ballet are at London’s Sadler’s Wells this week with two programmes.
The triple bill, which kicked off the mini-season last night, consists of Checkmate, Symphonic Variations and Pineapple Poll. From Thursday they will perform Frederick Ashton’s comedy La Fille mal gardée.
The ballet goes way back to 1789, but has undergone so many changes that it’s history is checkered to say the least. The Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s revival in 1885 is one of the most important. The American Ballet Theatre version from the 1940s (Bronislava Nijinska /Dimitri Romanoff) continued for many years, though the company now has the Ashton version in its repertory.
Heniz Spoerli’s Fille from the 1980s is widely known because it was filmed and is available on dvd. But it is Ashton’s ballet which has become the standard. Created in 1960 for the Royal Ballet it is also in the repertory of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Australian Ballet, from 2002 in that of the Bolshoi, 2004 the American Ballet Theatre, and 2007 the Paris Opera Ballet.
La Fille mal gardée’s celebrated Pas de ruban was introduced by Ashton as a homage to Marius Petipa’s 1885 revival with the great Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi, known in Russia as “The Divine Virginia”.
Ashton, though, takes the ribbon theme to extreme employing the corps to make complex ribbon patterns, and creating the miraculous ribbon promenade with Lise (the Fanny Elssler pas de deux). Then there’s the maypole dance with its interweaving ribbons, ribbons are tied and untied on hooks and wrists, and similar actions occur with the neckerchiefs if Widow Simone, Lise and Colas. Neat symbolism for making and breaking engagements, signing then tearing up contracts, and the other actions in the ballet caused by Lise’s infatuation with country-boy Colas rather than rich-boy Alain.
When Ashton created his version in 1960 there were detractors who disliked the “excessive” use of props, finding it gimmicky. It is now those scenes which guarantee spontaneous applause, and have given this jewel of a ballet the success that has taken it to all corners of the world.
Below, one of the ‘gimmicks’: Widow Simone’s clog dance, with the Birmingham Royal Ballet…
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Photo: top, Virginia Zucchi in 1995; Nao Sakuma as Lise and Iain Mackay as Colas, the first cast of La Fille mal gardée at Sadler’s Wells – by Roy Smiljanic