Monday, July 20, 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: La Fille Mal Gardée

Girl loves Boy, Boy loves Girl. Mother disapproves of Boy, prefers Other Boy for Girl. Other Boy is a fool. Girl and Boy get married. The Chickens dance and the Peasants rejoice.

The amazing ceiling at Opera Garnier by artist Marc Chagall.
Such is the plot of La Fille Mal Gardée

The recent Paris Opéra Ballet production of this 200 year old classic ballet is a fun, light-hearted romp of young love and silly hijinks in the lovely countryside. It’s comedic ballet at its best, complete with a chorus of dancing chickens, a lively harvest festival, and a carriage hitched to a real-life horse! 

Lise and Colas are in love but her ridiculous and overbearing mother, the Widow Simone, prefers she marry the rich but dull and foolish Alain. At the village’s harvest festival, Lise performs an intricate ribbon dance with Colas and the other young ladies of the village. The Ribbon Dance is one of the most well-known scenes in this ballet, and for good reason: it showcases a beautiful moment of pure strength and faultless technique when Lise, in the centre where the maypole would normally be, holds the ribbons of her eight fellow ballerinas while balancing in a perfect attitude promenade en pointe, whilst they circle around her. No easy feat but it was brilliantly executed and joyfully danced by the leading lady and the corps de ballet.

We could see two performances for our seats: the dance and the music.
Alain attempts to woo Lise but is too awkward and foolish to notice the lovers stealing glances and sneaking kisses during an elaborate and humorous trio variation. Even the Widow Simone lets loose with the girls in a spirited folk dance, the other famous dance of this ballet – the Clog Dance. The ladies donned bright yellow clogs over their pointe shoes and stomped out a delightful rhythm, which added a fun, percussive element to the dance and the score. But the merriment was short-lived and a thunderstorm scattered the revellers at the end of Act I, providing some exciting storm special effects from the lighting and sound designs.  Alain was even swept away on the wind with his umbrella as the curtain fell.

Act II dawns inside Lise and Widow Simone’s cottage, with Lise’s attempts to sneak away to Colas thwarted at every turn by her mother. Even after a rousing tambourine dance, the old woman just won’t fall asleep! She insists the Alain-Lise marriage will go ahead no matter what and locks Lise inside the cottage while she leaves to fetch the notary and the bumbling Groom. Unbeknownst to her and Lise, who throws a hilarious temper-tantrum out of frustration, Colas sneaks inside when some of the harvested crops are brought into the cottage. From his hiding place, he witnesses Lise professing her love for him via a dreamy solo enactment of their future: first the proposal, then marriage, then several baby carriages…if she could have written their initials inside a giant sparkly heart onstage, she would have. 

Colas reveals himself to an embarrassed Lise and the two hide when Widow Simone returns with Alain, the officiant and the entire village as witnesses. The lovers are revealed when Alain botches the proposal and though initially furious with her wayward daughter (as is the translated title), she eventually blesses their love and follows them, along with the whole village, to the wedding ceremony…all except Alain, who sneaks back inside, amidst much laughter from the audience, to retrieve his prized possession – his umbrella!

We had fantastic seats in one of the side-boxes.
This ballet’s accessible plot and characters were enjoyed by all ages of ballet patrons, as the consistent laughter indicated. The sets, depicting the gorgeous French landscapes, were amazing and vividly realized by the design team: a sweet little cottage exterior and yard (where the Chickens stole the first scene), transformed seamlessly into a picturesque field for the harvest festival and then into the cozy interior of the cottage for the final act.

The principal character roles were danced and acted with heart and gusto – it wasn’t hard to notice how much fun the dancers were having bringing their loveable characters to larger-than-life, especially Alain and Widow Simone. The lovers, Lise and Colas, had a sweet and sincere chemistry and their partner work was able to rally from a few shaky lifts.

La Fille Mal Gardée was a wonderful show to cap off our series of ballet performances this year: the razor-sharp technique of Lander’s Etudes, the weight and flow of Forsythe’s choreography, the innovative reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, the contemporary day in a life of Le Chant de la Terre, the classic and heartbreaking Swan Lake, and the comedy and characters of La Fille Mal Gardée. Here in France, where ballet was born, the tradition of ballet excellence and innovation is alive and thriving.

I've loved watching every performance with this man.
As a dancer and a writer, it’s been a dream come true to share my experiences on this blog. I sincerely thank you, dear Readers from around the world, for following these posts and for your comments and tweets. I must also thank two very special people who made this Paris Opéra Ballet viewing experience a reality – my amazing husband Mike and Salena, my talented sister, fellow dancer and writer, who worked together to choose these performances for an incredible anniversary gift.

And finally, to the dancers, choreographers, musicians, designers, and Front of House staff at Opéra Garnier and Bastille, thank you for all that you do. It’s truly been an honor and a privilege to witness the variety and depth of ballet dance.

Merci et félicitations à tous et à toutes à l’Opéra de Paris. À la prochaine saison!

Bring on the 2015-2016 Season! 

The balconies make excellent barres.
One very happy Dancer Abroad!
Re-live the past season by checking out my previous posts on the ballet in Paris:

Swan Lake on World Theatre Day from April 2015

Le Chant de la Terre  from March 2015

The Swedish Royal Ballet: Juliette et Romeo  from January 2015

Lander/Forsythe from September 2014

Danse Classique in Paris from September 2014

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