Chocolate Chip Cookie Ballet, First Half

17 Nov

So today I watched a DVD of the 1981 Royal Ballet production (as if one could settle for another!) of La Fille mal gardée and because I’m totally into this giving ballets my own personal epithet, and I’m going to say La Fille mal gardée is the chocolate chip cookie ballet, which is easier for me to say because I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.  Despite the fact that I can do a pretty convincing French accent (I was a parrot in a past life, I’m sure of it), I have no idea as to how one actually speaks French.  But that’s not really my problem.  At any rate, I dub it the chocolate chip cookie ballet because of its accessibility and overall delightfulness.  If you had a friend who didn’t know a thing about ballet, and I mean absolutely nothing, it would be the perfect ballet to take them to go see.  It’s even more accessible than The Nutcracker cash cow in my opinion.  Sir Ashton’s choreography really put storytelling in its simplest form, and there’s nothing to understand or interpret for yourself because everything is understandable.  Its impossible to watch without a smile on your face and it just makes you feel good.  Like a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven…you know, when the chocolate is melty and the cookie is warm and pliant in your hands…yeah that’s right.  And the world breathed a collective “mmm.”

This was actually the first full length Ashton work I’ve watched, and only the second complete ballet (Symphonic Variations being the first).  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the versatility in his choreography because I never would have guessed that Symphonic Variations and La Fille mal gardée were by the same person.  Symphonic Variations is more elegant and halcyon, while La Fille is utterly charming.  In fact, I’m pretty sure charming is the only word that can describe it.  Libretto?  Charming.  Score?  Charming.  Choreography?  Ridiculously charming.  It’s interesting that the libretto isn’t particularly complicated (girl loves boy, mother opposes, tries to set girl up with Mr. Moneybags’ son, but after some tomfoolery true love wins in the end), but Ashton has a way of sustaining your attention.  Not event he squirreliest of attention spans will be able to wander away from this ballet, because there is never a dull moment.

There were so many unexpected moments in the choreography that I loved, like when Lise (girl) is upset when Simone (mother) locks her in the house to keep her away from Colas (boy).  Lise sits on the couch pouting, alternating her feet in tendu.  Who would have thought of that?  Well Ashton did, and it just works.  Everything about his choreography in the ballet just works, and is always interesting.  Even the corps gets some top-notch steps, although I nearly gagged when they did a flighty petite allegro in the first act that included a few temps de cuisse, or as I like to call them…well, truthfully I don’t have a clever nickname for them but I should because they’re hellish and always mess me up.  It’s not my fault the step was invented although when I find out who created it, I’m going to kick him in the shins.  Personal issues aside, I enjoyed some of the more unusual choreography as well, like when Colas appears in the upper part of a door, picks Lise up and she hangs there until he sets her down and then goes on to assist her in a promenade in attitude, holding her hand from above.  And of course Alain (boy Lise doesn’t want to marry) with his wacky, distinct movement style will have anyone and everyone chuckling.  Lise may not want to marry him, but he’s such a lovable character.

I have to say that one of the things that really impressed me about the ballet was how Ashton staged the theatrical elements.  Not many ballets have dancers dress in full animal costumes like the chickens in this one (although later on there’s a real live pony brought on stage…interesting choice to mix live animals and costumed dancers), or a man cross dress as an old biddy (Simone is danced by a man), but it really adds a fun dimension to the production as a whole.  However, probably the most interesting aspect of this ballet was Ashton’s use of props.  There’s the ribbon pas de deux between Lise and Colas where they’re dancing with a long pink ribbon, spinning in and out of it, looping it around each other and before you know it, they’re engulfed in an oversized game of cat’s cradle.  And I mean that literally…at one point, they make a design with the ribbon that is shown to the audience and is sure to garner applause.  The ribbon motif is repeated later in a dance by the corps that frames the main duo, and at one point Lise is perched in an attitude on pointe, holding onto several ribbons that radiate outward like a maypole, and at each end is a corps member orbiting her, which causes her to slowly turn.  And then there’s an actual maypole dance where the corps dance in and out of each other to weaving the ribbons.  I was under the impression that people just ran around the pole and the ribbons would spiral downward and had no idea that it was so intricate, so that was neat to see.  And there were clever things like Lise’s series of echappés and sous-sous while she churned butter or Alain dancing with his beloved red umbrella.  A lot of great work with props that I don’t think has ever been so evident in other ballets.  Like scythes and bushels of wheat…Colas actually sneaks into the house hidden in some of those bushels of wheat, and when he sprung out I was so startled I swore out loud.  Good thing I didn’t see this one live or I could have burned some children’s ears.

Overall, this production was wonderful, and I loved Lesley Collier as Lise.  She was darling, and had a really crisp arabesque line.  She wasn’t trying to hike her leg up in an overly indulgent, contorted arabesque, but would take the simplest path and get there.  Her arabesques were always so square and spot on, and I loved the efficiency of her movement (trademark Royal Ballet for you).  Just a short clip on YouTube, however, I noticed that someone uploaded the more recent filming of La Fille with Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez (Royal Ballet again, obviously), so I think I’m going to watch that for Wednesday night’s blog and do a comparison.  Mostly for me, so I can figure out which one I’ll add to the Amazon wishlist, but as always, you’re free to read.  I won’t stop you.

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One Response to “Chocolate Chip Cookie Ballet, First Half”

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