Royal Ballet, La Fille mal gardée, Royal Opera House, 16 April 2015
I first saw La Fille mal gardée in 1970 with Merle Park as Lise, Michael Coleman as Colas, Brian Shaw as Simone, Alexander Grant as Alain and Leslie Edwards as Thomas. I've seen a lot of performances of this ballet since then. But I don't think I have ever seen a better one than last Thursday night's. Vadim Muntagirov danced Colas, Laura Morera Lise, Will Tukett Simone, Paul Kay Alain and Gary Avis Thomas. Ashton would have been delighted with their performance.
Morera was an adorable Lise. Ashton had created that role for Nadia Nerina who retired just before I could afford to take myself to Covent Garden. I saw her only on black and white television of which a few fragments remain on YouTube (see the ribbon dance with David Blair and a rather longer extract from Act II). For me Lise was Merle Park and I have compared every ballerina who has danced that role over the 45 years to her. The highest compliment that I could pay a dancer in that role whenever I reviewed that ballet was that she reminded me of Park. That is what I said about the performance of the lovely Maureya Lebowitz when Birmingham Royal Ballet danced Fille in Nottingham last year (see Fille bien gardée - Nottingham 26 June 2014 27 June 2014). Morera has put her signature on that role. How charmingly she coaxed her mum into her clogs clicking them gently together. How sweetly she pretended to catch, swat and stamp on an imaginary fly. A disobedient daughter, yes, but such an affectionate one. How could anyone remain angry with her for long?
Muntagirov was the best Colas that I have ever seen. In previous productions he had been overshadowed by Lise which is perhaps as it should be as Fille is in the title in contrast to the other great ballet about an arranged marriage that went wrong, Romeo and Juliet. Muntagirov transformed that role with his power and grace. He is a magnificent dancer of whom I can never see enough.
Tuckett was a very convincing Simone. Previous dancers in that role had danced it as a pantomime dame but Tuckett was womanly. At least one person in the audience expressed surprise that Simone was a man on reading the cast list. Kay portrayed the gormless and gulled Alain skilfully. It is a difficult role to dance in the 21st century. Fifty years ago we were less kind to folk with learning difficulties and other disabilities. We laughed at them then but don't any more. Kay won our hearts and our sympathy.
On 9 April Avis tweeted:
Well! Who would have thought that on my birthday at my age I'd be having a solo rehearsal with Wayne McGregor for #ROHwoolf @RoyalOperaHouseI have always liked Avis so I replied
— Gary Avis (@balletboy09) April 9, 2015
@balletboy09 @RoyalOperaHouse many happy returns from one of your most devoted admirers who hopes to see more of you in the years to come.It was such a treat to see him so soon after that exchange.
— Terpsichore (@jelterps) April 9, 2015
And yet another treat was to be in a London audience who had seen ballet before and knew when to clap and when to roar. Every single seat in the House was taken. There was a buzz. There was gaiety. There was flair. The crowd was there to watch and live the show. Not simply to be seen by their neighbours in the hope of appearing in the social pages of a county glossy. Such a glorious experience in every way.