Having premiered in Bordeaux in 1789 and London two years later, La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) is the oldest ballet still in existence.
For this reason alone it feels a fitting choice for David Bintley to launch his final season, as he steps down after 24 years as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Considering its heritage, this ballet is not frequently toured, hence why it is perhaps not as well-known. Bintley’s production uses the choreography of the late Frederick Ashton, who revived the ballet in 1960 with Ferdinand Herold’s score adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery.
Ashton kept the setting very much in the late eighteenth-century countryside. To a 21st century audience this feels not so much a period piece as a fairy-tale. And it is this charming innocence that gives it such a universal and lasting appeal for all ages.
The story is a simple one of love and ambition. Lise is the only daughter of Simone, a widow and owner of a prosperous farm. Simone tries to get Lise to work churning butter and other farm yard chores, but Lise’s mind is elsewhere.
Here lies the drama. For while Lise is distracted by her love for young farmer, Colas, her mother is distracted by her ambition – planning for Lise to marry Alain, the son of a wealthy vineyard owner.
Osbert Lancaster’s design is painted like a story book. Combined with Bo-peep bonnets and costumes of gingham, stripes, and sunny pastels we are transported to another world. Here young men and women circle colourful ribbons around a Maypole, chickens dance and a gorgeous, real Shetland pony takes centre stage.
There are elements of pantomime too, in so far as Simone is played by male dancer, Rory Mackay, whose clog dancing en pointe is worth the ticket fee alone.
Kit Holder is equally engaging as Lise’s unsuitable suitor, Alain. His clown-like appearance – rosy-red painted cheeks, wearing a flower in his hat and always carrying an umbrella – is matched by his puppet-like mime and foolery. He wins both the audience’s laughs and sympathies.
But unfortunately for him no-one can compete with the incredible athleticism of Colas (Lachlan Monaghan) whose spectacular leaps draw spontaneous applause. Miki Mizutani makes a cheeky and nimble-footed Lise. Together they create a wonderful air of playful romance.
It’s a joyful escape, guaranteed to bring out the child in you, and leave you floating on a breeze.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
La Fille Mal Gardée is at The Lowry from 24-27 October 2018.