‘La Fille mal gardée.’ Queensland Ballet

9 August 2017. Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

It is always refreshing to see a different version of a well-known work. And so it was with Queensland Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée. The version that is well-known to many Australian dance-goers is by Frederick Ashton, which Ashton made for the Royal Ballet in 1960, and which has been in the repertoire of the Australian Ballet since 1967 (although it hasn’t been shown for several years). On the other hand, Queensland Ballet, in a co-production with West Australian Ballet, staged a relatively new version by French-born, freelance choreographer Marc Ribaud, which he made in 2000 for the Nice Opera Ballet.

Ribaud has retained the basic narrative. It follows the story of Lise and Colas who wish to marry, but whose wishes are thwarted by Lise’s mother, the Widow Simone—she would prefer that Lise marry the eccentric and wealthy Alain whose greatest love is for his umbrella. But the overall tone of Ribaud’s Fille, which is set in the south of France in the 1950s, is quite different from that in the Ashton work. The choreography for Ribaud’s work is classically based but is boisterous and full of fast-paced dancing. It seems to fill the stage in an entirely different way from Ashton’s work, which seems very English in its rather gentle and considered choreographic approach. Ribaud’s Fille, at least with the cast I saw, also has strong overtones of slapstick. While Ashton gives us references to pantomime, his are much more restrained. Perhaps more subtle?

Ribaud has also retained some audience favourites from the Ashton version, albeit with changes. The famous clog dance is there although the Widow is accompanied by four village lads who tap away beside her as she goes through her clog routine. The chicken dance is also there but in a variant form. There are no dancers dressed in chicken outfits, just four male friends of Colas and Lise, dressed in jeans and giving us chicken-like gestures—chins poking forward as they move, hands with fingers spread to represent a chicken’s comb and so on. It was hilarious and very clever.

As Lise, Lina Kim with her smooth and lyrical technique was absolutely charming—it was her first performance in the role too. She showed such a variety of emotion, depending on who else was involved at any one time, and her mime scene in the last act, when she imagines what might be should she marry Colas, was just gorgeous, as was her later embarrassment when she thought Colas had seen her. Shane Wuerthner was an ardent Colas and in the opening pas de deux set the scene beautifully for what was to follow. I was impressed, in fact, with all Ribaud’s pas de deux, which often reminded me of the style of Bournonville as so often Lise and Colas danced side by side in a complementary manner rather than the man having a more supportive role. That is not to say, of course, that there were no lifts and, in fact, when they occurred they varied from soaring lifts to shapes, often with upturned feet, in which Lise’s body wrapped round or curled up to that of Colas.

Despite a little trouble with his umbrella (it broke) and his hat, Ze Wu gave a strong performance as Alain and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future—his technical range looks prodigious. The umbrella and hat problems were beautifully and professionally handled by the cast, to the extent that the Widow Simone adopted the broken umbrella and stroked it lovingly! Joel Woellner as the Widow was totally outrageous. He was the slapstick hero(ine) and milked the audience at every opportunity. And of course the audience loved it and responded with laughter and cheers. And I enjoyed that Lina Kim gave back the way she did every time she was scolded.

Costumes by Lexi De Silva, sets by Richard Roberts and lighting by Jon Buswell provided a great background for the dancers of Queensland Ballet. Music was performed by Camerata—Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra and conducted with his usual skill by Nigel Gaynor. This Fille is a little gem and Queensland Ballet continues to show what a terrific company it has become. Bouquets to all.

(I have no images of the cast I saw, unfortunately. But below are some from another cast.)

Jack Lister as the Widow Simone and Camilo Ramos as Alain in 'La Fille mal gardee. Photo: David Kelly
Victor Estevez as Colas in La Fille mal gardee. Queensland ballet 2017. Photo: David Kelly

 

Artists of Queensland Ballet in 'La Fille mal gardee', 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Artists of Queensland Ballet in La Fille mal gardée, 2017. Photos: © David Kelly

Michelle Potter, 12 August 2017

Featured image: Artists of Queensland Ballet in La Fille mal gardée, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Dance diary. October 2014

This month’s diary is something of  a celebration of three of Australia’s senior artists: Eileen Kramer (Cramer), former Bodenwieser dancer; Dame Margaret Scott, founding director of the Australian Ballet School; and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, founder of Australian Dance Theatre. Each has been in the news in different ways recently. I have arranged these mini posts, which are largely in the form of links, according to descending order of age of those three dancers, beginning with Eileen Kramer, who will very shortly celebrate her 100th birthday.

  • Eileen Kramer
Eileen Kramer in 'Indian Love Song', 1952. Photo: Noel Rubie
Eileen Kramer

(left) Eileen Kramer in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Indian Love Song, 1952. Photo Noel Rubie; (right) in Sydney in 2013 celebrating her 99th birthday

Early in October I received an unexpected email from a producer for Sydney not-for-profit radio station FBi Radio. The message was to let me know that Eileen Kramer, whom I had interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 2003, was  appearing on an FBi Radio program called Out of the Box. She was to appear on the program with singer/songwriter Lacey Cole who had made a music video in which he sang his composition, Nephilim’s Lament, accompanied by Kramer dancing on a rocky promontory above Clovelly beach in Sydney. Here is a link to the radio interview, which was conducted by Ash Berdebes, and a link to the five minute video. [Update August 2016: the link to the radio interview is no longer available]

  • Dame Maggie Scott: A Life in Dance

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947. Image from Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

I have updated the post on my biography of Maggie Scott with links to recent media stories in which the book is discussed. Here is a link to the updated page.

  • Elizabeth Dalman

Elizabeth Dalman in 'From Sapling to Silver', 2011

Elizabeth Dalman in From Sapling to Silver, 2011

It is a pleasure to be able to report that Elizabeth Cameron Dalman has been short-listed as a finalist for the ACT Senior Australian of the Year. It is rare for a someone working in the dance area to be nominated in awards of this nature so congratulations to Elizabeth for once again putting dance at the forefront of public life. Dalman is one of four finalists in this category and the ACT  Senior Australian of the Year will be announced on 3 November.

  • Press for October

‘Wayward daughter delights.’ Preview of West Australian Ballet’s La fille mal gardéeThe Canberra Times, Panorama, 4 October 2014, p. 15.  Online.

‘A Dame called Maggie.’ The Canberra Times, Panorama, 25 October 2014, pp. 10–11. Online.

Canberra dance. Coming in 2014

Details of the dance productions Canberra audiences can expect in 2014 are slowly emerging. In announcing its ‘Collected Works, 2014′, the Canberra Theatre Centre revealed that both Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre will return to Canberra in 2014, thus maintaining the strong links those two companies have forged with the city over many years. For example, Sydney Dance Company’s first season in Canberra was in 1977.* Scarcely a year has been missed since then.

Sydney Dance will bring its triple bill Interplay, which will consist of new works by Rafael Bonachela and Gideon Obarzanek and a reprise of Raw models by Italian choreographer Jacopo Godani. Raw models was part of a Sydney Dance Company program in 2011 and my thoughts on the show then are at this link. Bangarra will bring a new work by Stephen Page called Patyegarang, which focuses on the friendship between a young indigenous woman, Patyegarang, and colonial identity Lieutenant William Dawes.

The Brisbane-based group Circa will also be in Canberra in 2014 with their new production S. My connections with the National Institute of Circus Arts through the Heath Ledger Project interviewing program have brought home to me the esteem with which this  company is held in the industry so I look forward to their 2014 show, which we are told explores a sinuous energy—appropriately, given the title S—and is a physical ode to the human body.

A surprise revelation at the launch of the 2014 season was that West Australian Ballet will visit in October with a production of La Fille mal gardée, but not in the version choreographed by Frederick Ashton that we are used to seeing in Australia. The version being brought by West Australian Ballet is choreographed by Marc Ribaud, currently director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, and is set in 1950s rural France. Costumes are by Lexi De Silva whose previous credits include designs for Tim Harbour’s Halcyon and Sweedeedee. De Silva also worked alongside Hugh Colman as he created the designs for Stephen Baynes’ recent Swan Lake. Sets are being created by Richard Roberts, lighting by John Buswell. Here is the Canberra Theatre’s preview video for the Fille program. It is a photo shoot in essence featuring the leading characters, Lise, Colas and Alain, but gives some idea of what the work might look like.

But before we even get to the new year, the Canberra Theatre has also just announced a Christmas treat for very young dance-goers (and their parents and grandparents) who will have the  pleasure of seeing Angelina and friends live onstage in Angelina Ballerina: the Mousical. It opens at the Canberra Theatre on 12 December 2013. What a treat!
Angelina Ballerina the mousical

Michelle Potter, 28 September 2013

* Although led  by Graeme Murphy the company was at that stage still called the Dance Company (NSW). 1977 was Murphy’s first full year as director of the company, which was renamed Sydney Dance Company in 1979.

‘La Fille mal gardée’. Paris Opera Ballet

La Fille mal gardée

Paris Opera Ballet, Palais Garnier, Paris, 14 July 2009

It was le quatorze juillet. The orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris began the evening with a remarkably stirring rendition of La Marseillaise. The audience applauded loudly and shouted Vive la France! It set the scene for an equally stirring performance of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée.

Although Ashton’s version of Fille entered the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet only in 2007, the ballet has strong French roots that can be traced back to 1789 when a work called Le Ballet de la paille took the stage of the Grand-Théâtre of Bordeaux. Subsequently, a number of choreographers created their own versions before Ashton choreographed his production in 1960 for the Royal Ballet.

Ashton’s choreography gave the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet every opportunity to show their technical capacity for fast and precise footwork and their glorious adherence to the classical way of moving. On show too was their ability to give an individualistic interpretation of a role. The Widow Simone who, in what no doubt was a one-off patriotic moment on the French National Day, waved a tiny French flag as she made her first appearance was a case in point. Stephane Phavorin was to a certain extent the flustered pantomime dame but absent (thankfully) was the high camp interpretation that one often sees. Similarly, Simon Valastro as Alain gave a thoughtful portrayal in which he managed to convince us that he was not so much an imbecile as simply someone incompetent of functioning in the society in which he found himself. The difference is perhaps subtle but this Alain was not entirely brainless.

As Lise, Dorothée Gilbert displayed the brilliant technical capacity and the clarity and expansiveness of movement that one has come to expect from étoiles with this remarkable company. Coupled with her beautifully expressive upper body and her sheer delight in dancing, she was everything one could hope for as Lise. Her mime scene in Act II where she imagines herself married to Colas was tenderly moving and the pas de deux in this act was danced with just the right dreamy quality to display Ashton’s choreography to perfection.

Gilbert was partnered by Mathias Heymann as Colas who like his colleagues showed himself every bit an étoile. This is a company of outstanding artists.

Michelle Potter, 16 July 2009