La fille mal gardée will speak to the heart of any spectator... It blends to a nicety the April emotions of young love, tears and happiness intermingled like showers and sunshine... time and again, one recognizes the touch of a master craftsman; the canniness of an expert, experienced man of the theatre.
These words are of the distinguished critic the late Mary Clarke on the first performance of this ballet in January 1960, much missed and to whom this first performance of this revival of Frederick Ashton's bucolic masterpiece was dedicated by The Royal Ballet. It was fitting then that it was of vintage quality, displaying a lightness of touch and a sureness of style which made the choreography sing. It has been many years since this critic has been so satisfied with a performance of this glorious ballet, so much being well and finely judged.
At its heart one of the most felicitous partnerships: Laura Morera and Vadim Muntagirov, she stylistically assured and of jubilant musicality, he of impeccable line and technique with a warm and generous personality. They fired off each other and rapidly established a believable relationship -- here were two young people simply, totally in love with each other. There was nothing studied, nothing arch about their characterisations; gestures and looks seemed to flow spontaneously from them, from Morera's coy flirtatiousness to Muntagirov's boy-next-door shrugs and waves. Nothing in this deceptively demanding ballet seemed to pose a problem and so the choreography sang out in great arcs of movement and generous phrases of gesture. Morera especially was so alive to the requisite style that one saw many touches often missed or smudged by other, less stylistically punctilious dancers. Muntagirov followed her lead, happily bending and twisting as Ashton desired, the two exulting in his challenges. Morera shows just how fleet of foot a dancer has to be in the role of Lise and serves as an object lesson not only in terms of speed but also phrasing. This role represents a high-point in her career thus far.
Casting around them was equally assured. Paul Kay's shy, endearing Alain is not for my money to be bettered today; he avoids portraying him as an idiot and seizes the pathos of the innocent whose father wishes him to grow up a little too quickly -- rather than a wife, the boy wants his red umbrella! Three cheers for the warm-hearted Widow Simone of William Tuckett, whose return to the Covent Garden stage is most welcome -- despite all the character's machinations, we never doubt her deep love for her rather wayward daughter. The famous clog dance was a delight.
The corps de ballet skipped and pranced and may-poled with glee, singing lustily to the final bars of the ensemble as tradition dictates and providing a perfect setting for Morera and Muntagirov's triumph. I note that Lise's friends numbered several of the company's up-and-coming dancers who, one sincerely wishes, were watching and learning from her performance.
Barry Wordsworth, who must have conducted this score more often than anyone alive, ensured a sprightly rendition of Lanchbery's infectious score from the Royal Opera House orchestra. All in all, Mary Clarke would have been very pleased indeed.