A fille full of fabulous fun

Nao Sakuma as Lise

Nao Sakuma as Lise. Pictures: Roy Smiljanic

La Fille mal gardée

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


ONE of the great treasures of Birmingham Royal Ballet is its legacy of Frederick Ashton’s masterful creations.

And speaking of BRB treasure, Nao Sakuma is always a delight to watch and in the lead role of Lise not only dances beautifully but has a chance to show her considerable acting ability and some great comic timing.

Lise is the wayward daughter of the village’s rich farmer, Widow Simone, an old woman danced with an amusing air of up-market panto dame by Michael O’Hare – who manages a splendid and noisy clog dance.

Some Russian versions wear traditional felt soled boots for the clog dance which seems to lose rather more than a little in the translation, a bit like tap dancing in carpet slippers.

Lis, meanwhile, is in love with Colas, a young farmer, danced athletically and gracefully by César Morales. Their pairing gave us a love story which lasted from first note to last applause and some beautifully danced pas de deux including a rather complex one with ribbons. It is not easy to make a stage romance seem real for two and a half hours but they managed it.

The fly in this particular ointment is Thomas, a well-heeled and portly vineyard owner, danced, or rather, walked by Jonathan Payn, and his son Alain, danced by kit holder as the cockerelMathias Dingman who Thomas and Simone have decided is a perfect, as in profitable, match for Lise.

Alain is a congenital imbecile who would probably fail the entrance exam for village idiot and he has a somewhat unhealthy fixation on an umbrella.

Dancing someone so dopey has its own problems and Dingman did a super job full of comedy and awkward steps, so much so we all felt a bit sorry for the lad when he lost not only the girl but his umbrella at the end.

To add to his problems Alain even gets carried into the air in a huge storm at the end of Act 2. Dingman doesn’t make the mistake of going too far. He establishes the fact Alain would be intellectually challenged by a reasonably intelligent housebrick from his first appearance and then maintains that throughout without going over the top or letting his air of lunacy slip.

His pas de trois with Lise and Colas is a little comic gem.

Cock-a-doodle do: Kit Holder is the wake-up call to start the show as the cockerel


Ashton also introduced a menagerie with Kit Holder dancing the Cockerel and Lura Day, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami and Miki Mizutani scratching around Simone’s yard as his flock of hens.

Their opening dance sets the tone for the whole show, you are left in no doubt that this is going to be colourful, light hearted and above all, fun.

And, the production sees the return of that seasoned, old hoofer Peregrine, the pony. He is 17 now and was last seen at BRB in the 2011Fille poduction. Showing what an old trooper he is he didn’t put a hoof wrong, although the youngest member of the cast is assigned to follow him, apparently, and there is a judiciously placed shovel hidden on the cart Peregrine pulls - just in case.

Peregrine’s predecessor, incidentally, retired about five years ago, aged 32,  to live with owner George in Scotland so Peregrine has a few years to go before he can claim his pension.

La Fille Mal Gardée, the wayward daughter,  is the oldest ballet in existence, dating back to 1789 but Ashton’s 1960 version is more than a revival, it is a reworking and a retelling with an idyllic setting of rural England before the dark satanic mills took hold.

There is a Maypole dance and the third act even has a sequence with more than a passing nod to Morris Dancers, just the bells were missing.

Ashton dispensed with the commonly used 1864 music by Peter Ludwig Hertel, starting instead with an earlier 1828 score by Ferdinand Hérold as his basis. The score was then arranged and expanded by Royal Opera House composer and conductor John Lanchbery and the result is one of Ashton’s finest creations.

Peter Teigen’s lighting is always interesting and unobtrusive, such as the gradua lightnin of he skies as dawn breaks at the opening, and he creates a realistic storm scene with lighting flashes high in the flies while Osbert Lancaster’s designs take us effortlessly to another time and age. They are simple and elegant while, as usual, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia are the extra, star member of cast, performing magnificently again under Philip Ellis.

To many Swan Lake is synonymous with ballet, and why not, but this predates it by more than a century and shows ballet can be light and fun, it is a comedy ballet which is beautifully danced. If you have never been to a ballet and fancy dipping a toe in the water this is an ideal starter, and if you are a ballet regular, this is a light hearted treat. To 15-06-14. 

Roger Clarke



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