REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s La Fille Mal Gardée will make you smile until your face aches

Birmingham Royal Ballet's La Fille Mal Gardée

If you’re seeking a breezy, light-hearted, rom-com of a ballet, then you’ve come to the right place. With its whimsical dancing chickens, perfectly behaved, white Shetland pony and rustic country setting, Frederick Ashton’s story of young love between Lise (country girl) and Colas (hunky farmhand) is perfect family entertainment.

Samara Downs is a charming Lise. She does well to keep up with Ashton’s sweeping choreography; sending the villagers’ heads flying (literally) with high leg extensions and sinewy threading arms. Down’s mischievous and tender characterisation comes naturally, especially in the “When I’m Married” mime. Her utter mortification on realising Colas has been secretly watching her, as she dreams of having three children, is completely relatable. Above all, it’s refreshing to see a ballet with a resourceful and triumphant woman. Unlike Giselle, Juliet, Odette and Marguerite- who all end up dead- La Fille presents a beguiling heroine.

Birmingham Royal Ballet. Nao Sakuma as Lise and Iain Mackay as Colas with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; photo- Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet. Nao Sakuma as Lise and Iain Mackay as Colas with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; photo- Bill Cooper

Tzu-Chao Chou is excellent in his role of Alain (country bumpkin), who is Lise’s overbearing Mother’s preferred suitor for the young girl. With his toothy smile and a strange attachment to his red umbrella, Chou brings the perfect combination of gusto and delight to the role. In fact, Chou’s virtuosity is matched perfectly by Yasuo Atsuji’s in his role as Colas, with his athletic jumps and entrechats. Kit Holder’s panto-esque portrayal of Simone, Lise’s widowed mother, who spends most of Act I with her hair in paper curlers, is spot on.

If the maypole dances, dramatic storm scenes, floaty romantic tu-tus and gigantic diamond rings don’t convince you, then look no further than the Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s arrangement of John Lanchbery’s original score. Under conductor Paul Murhpy, the Sinfonia guide the dancers through every blissful and amusing moment. La Fille truly is a ballet to make you smile until your face aches.

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 2nd November

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