14 July 2009. Palais Garnier, Paris
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