Magazine article The Spectator

Sparkling Form

Magazine article The Spectator

Sparkling Form

Article excerpt

Dance

La Fille Mal Garde (Royal Opera House)

Giannandrea Poesio

Now that almost all the Sugar Plum Fairies and their dim-looking Nutcracker Princes have been packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations, ballet companies are back to a more saccharinefree repertoire. While English National Ballet has greeted the new year with the unsinkable Swan Lake, the Royal Ballet has opted to start 2001 with something less tragic and monumental, yet equally successful: Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee. And there is no doubt that they have started on the right foot.

More than 40 years after its creation, this ballet comedy is still going strong. Despite its pastel-toned love story, the intentionally naive prettiness of some choreographic passages and the profusion of theatricality, such as the ubiquitous ribbons that would look unbearably prissy in any other context, Fille, as the ballet is known among dance people, is anything but twee. Underneath all that chocolate-box imagery lies a strong vein of irony, which prevents the ballet from turning into one of the many syrupy light-hearted works that populate the classical repertory. And it is this sparkling subtext, so carefully embedded in both the choreography and the dramatic structure of the work, which offers ample possibilities to interpreters and favours the ballet's constant rejuvenation.

On the opening night last week, both the dancing and the interpretation were firstclass. The role of Lise, the rebellious yet romantic young heroine, is one of Miyako Yoshida's favourites. Her reading, however, always has something new to offer and never slips into routine. Her splendid lightness, combined with a thorough understanding of the most complex Ashtonian nuances, matches perfectly the witty humour with which she spices up the role. The scene that immediately follows the Karsavina mime passage, named after the celebrated Russian star who passed it on to Ashton, was a true masterclass in comic bravura. The mime itself, is no problem for Yoshida. Originally conceived as the choreographic equivalents of the operatic recitativos, ballet mime passages are seldom understood nowadays, either by the interpreters or by the audience. …

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