La Fille Mal Gardée at Bristol Hippodrome

The evening at Bristol Hippodrome started with dancing chickens with castanets. I’m tempted to leave that one sentence as the review as it pretty much sums it all up.

La Fille Mal Gardée is a light frothy nonsense of a ballet, a silly colourful and very joyful event that would surely warm even the hardest heart. There was even a little white pony pulling a cart and making the audience go ‘Aaaawww’. The good guy got the girl, the bad guy didn’t deserve her and the strict mother relented in the face of lurve. The chickens danced, the harvest was brought in and everyone was happy in the end (even the bad guy, who wasn’t so much bad as obnoxious anyway).

This doesn’t mean it wasn’t done well by Birmingham Royal Ballet. I’m no ballet expert but to me the dancing looked pretty good; luckily I had a young girl behind me who was much more knowledgeable and her excited ‘Wows’ and ‘Ooohs’ at various points indicated that there was some impressive stuff going on from her point of view. I just find myself constantly amazed at what a human body can do – jumping in the air and doing three full turns, feet moving at insane speeds, one person holding another up in ways that look impossible – ballet dancers are awesome. They not only do all those incredible physical feats, but do it whilst acting not just overblown romantic moments but a full range from boredom to comedic to furious.

Since getting home I’ve read up a little on this ballet and now know it’s the oldest still in existence, although this version is a 20th century revival. It is a very popular and well-known one, and is not an easy ride for the dancers; the programme notes refer in particular to the ‘bum lift’ move (which is far more glamourous and elegant than it sounds).

The story is set in a village, the Wayward Girl Lise (Celine Gittens) is chafing against her restrictions and getting smacked for it by her mother Simone (Rory Mackay) but still manages to sneak in meetings with her fancy (but presumably poor) man Colas (Tyrone Singleton).  There are lots of young men and ladies who dance a lot. A young man, Alain (James Barton) and his father Thomas (Valentin Olovyannikov) arrive; they are obviously wealthier but Alain cannot compare with Colas. He dances badly, really badly. Hilariously badly. It’s wonderful. There’s lots more dancing, including a clog dance, morris dancing, and a maypole dance which made me wonder if all those people who made me and my classmates try it back in the day really thought it was ever going to look like that. The clog dance is genius. There’s more dancing chickens and a rainstorm, and finally a point where even Simone gives in and lets Lise choose her man, surrounded by her friends. It’s a lovely story and there’s no death, destruction or despair in there at all which suits me just fine.

The sets are very traditional, the costumes simple but very effective, and I loved the different colours in the village girls aprons. Another thing I really liked about this ballet is that it did have a full live orchestra not a recording.

This is definitely a very accessible ballet and one that I’d love to take my small daughter to. Instead last night I took a simpleton who giggled inanely about the dancing big cock and seemed to be quite taken with the male principal’s bright yellow tight leggings. Even she managed to follow the storyline though, neither of us needed to look at the program notes to find out what was going on.

So it’s a win all around for me – beautiful, lovely music, fantastic dancing, cheerful storyline and with lots of laughs. It’s highly recommended.

La Fille Mal Gardée shows at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7th July



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