It kills me that Seattle doesn’t get live screenings of ballet, and logically it makes sense because people who live with Pacific Standard Time aren’t going to get up at 9:00am to see a live stream of a ballet—but balletomanes are illogical and I would go, so I get to be bitter. Nobody complains more about not having Ashton in Seattle more than I do, so I’m going to begrudgingly eat my sour grapes and whine as much as I want. At any rate, I did write a review of the recent broadcast of La Fille mal gardée for SeattleDances (despite our screening being months after the original live airdate), a downright scintillating and CRAZY fascinating read, so as usual, I would ask that you read that before proceeding here.
Obviously, I had a great time, marred only by the lack of attendance for the screening! Well, that and the fact that an old man lay his cane across three of the best seats in the house…I thought he was saving them for someone, but no, apparently he just wanted to take up as many seats as possible. What I did find interesting—or perhaps a little disheartening—was that I didn’t see any of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s staff or company dancers in attendance. Is there really no interest in choreographers outside of Balanchine/Robbins, some after Petipa, and contemporaries? On the one hand, to be a dancer and watch dance can be a strange thing, especially when it isn’t live, but on the other, isn’t the responsibility of proactively seeking out new choreographers or repertory something that naturally comes with the job? Or maybe, nobody really even knows about these screenings (the advertising leaves a lot to be desired) or perhaps, nobody likes funny, happy story ballets here (although, I’m a total hypocrite because I didn’t go to Coppélia this season…shh, nothing!). La Fille is often referred to as “Ashton’s sunny comedy” and it has not been a summer of sun here so maybe that’s part of it too. There’s also a possibility that everybody owns the DVD like I do…but who are we kidding—that’s not likely! What is likely is that not everyone is as Ashton-obsessed as I am, and that people like to have a life outside of work. It’s not like I eat pizza when I’m off the clock—wait, correction—it’s not like I MAKE pizza when I’m not working so the problem is really just me and my expectations.
At any rate, how adorable are Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae? I loved them both tremendously in the roles of Lise and Colas, and found their chemistry quite endearing. I had only seen them before in a video of Symphonic Variations, which as an abstract, ensemble piece doesn’t (and shouldn’t) inspire any visions of romance. However, in La Fille, they can be as sweet as they want, and they certainly showed a blissful affection for each other in the iconic ribbon pas de deux. As saccharine as that pas de deux can be, I can’t help but delight in it every time I see it because it relates so well to my personal views of love. My belief is that love is something that must be created between two people, a force that is mysterious, powerful, and yet intangible, while “love” that is one-sided is what I would call an infatuation—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because an infatuation can certainly spark the beginning stages of a romance, but it alone isn’t what I would deem love. Ashton hit the nail on the head with this one, by choreographing the ribbon into a physical and visual representation of love. While many classical story ballets can leave you with questions like: “Is Albrecht truly in love with Giselle?” or “Does James love the Sylph, or is he searching for a reason to break his engagement to Effie?” or “Does Odile’s manipulation of Siegfried, thus leading to his betrayal of Odette actually confirm the fallacy of love at first sight?” there are no such questions with Lise and Colas because Ashton shows in plain sight that their love is true and pure.
Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae performing the “Ribbon Pas de Deux”:
Though I find it impossible to not be filled with hope after that pas de deux, there is another moment that always gets me, which is the one where Lise professes her love for Colas to her mother, begging her to accept their relationship. A month or two ago, I was actually watching the La Fille DVD, you know, for fun, and my eyes started welling up with tears during that scene. As comically ornery as the widow Simone may seem at times, she’s not a villainess; sexist as it is, maybe her betrothal of Lise to Alain is a way for her to ensure that Lise is taken care of (Simone is a widow after all), which renders Lise’s plea for understanding all the more powerful. Asking Simone to accept that happiness in love is far more important than anything material is a simple request for unconditional love on her part, which moved me to tears again in the theater…almost. Apparently I have this notion that I shouldn’t cry in public or in front of people I know, so I held it together, but I was close. It just goes to show that strong emotions aren’t only evoked by drama (as say, the Academy Awards would like us to believe), and that a sentimental response that arises from comedy is equally genuine and valid.
It’s a perplexing shame that La Fille mal gardée isn’t performed more regularly in the US. Major companies like San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey haven’t revived it in decades, and ABT last did it in 2002. Houston Ballet carries the torch for the most part, performing it as recently as 2010, but something I didn’t know is that Sarasota Ballet in Florida is apparently a treasure trove of Ashton repertory! Last season alone they did five Ashton ballets (including Les Patineurs, and Two Pigeons), with an evening program featuring only his work (Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, Monotones I & II, and Façade)! I’m actually mad at myself for not having a clue about the company, and next season they appear to be doing Symphonic Variations, Birthday Offering, Les Rendezvous, and yes, La Fille mal gardée with a live orchestra! GAH! Who knew?! Obviously people who live in Sarasota did and I’d be interested in hearing more about what the residents there think of the wealth of Ashton repertory that’s presented to them. While I continue to starve on the West Coast, it is comforting to know that there is an American ballet company dedicated to performing Ashton ballets as regularly as say, Balanchine (which Sarasota also does). I’ll certainly have to keep a visit to Sarasota in mind for the future—white sandy beaches and Ashton ballets? It’s very, VERY tempting…