La Fille mal gardée, Royal Opera House, London, review: ‘An enchanting blend of sweetness and brilliant dancing’

Created in 1960, Frederick Ashton’s ballet is a story of village lovers

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The Independent Culture

Autumn may be coming, but there’s endless sunshine in La Fille mal gardée. Warmth comes glowing off the stage in this Royal Ballet performance of Frederick Ashton’s ballet, an enchanting blend of sweetness and brilliant dancing.

Created in 1960, but based on earlier works, Ashton’s Fille is a story of village lovers: Lise wants Colas, her mother wants her to marry the rich neighbour’s dim son, everything works out happily. The dancing is packed with technique and tenderness, with Laura Morera and Vadim Muntagirov excelling in both on opening night.

On his way to start his solo in the harvest scene, Muntagirov stops dead when he catches sight of Morera’s Lise at the side of the stage. They exchange a besotted glance that sends him spinning into his solo: it’s all danced for her as much as for the audience. And what a solo! Muntagirov combines long, elegant lines with easy power, particularly in his dazzling turns. Colas will stop dead then bound upwards and outwards: Muntagirov’s musical phrasing makes it both explosive and lyrical.

Morera is another natural Ashton dancer, with fast feet and lavish, nuanced use of her upper body. Her timing is gorgeously witty, crisp changes of direction catching the music’s pulse. There’s real emotional weight in each to and fro – you can see her flirting, remembering her sense of duty, succumbing to love again. She has appealing, natural chemistry with Muntagirov, from teasing affection to strong, secure partnering.

As the Widow Simone, Lise’s mother, Thomas Whitehead starts out too harsh: he plays up the rules and the ambition, missing the character’s real concern for her daughter. He gets warmer in the second act, and all the better for it. In the clog dance – Simone’s cherished party piece – he shows a sparkling sense of rhythm. Paul Kay dances Alain, the rejected suitor, with in-the-moment innocence and very clean footwork.

Fille is packed with dancing, from Lise’s fleet-footed friends to joyful harvest dances. I love the storm scene, in which gusts of wind seem to send flocks of dancers scudding across the stage, and the precise comic observation in Ashton’s dancing chickens. And the real pony? Peregrine, who has his own devoted fanbase, pooped on stage; his attendant whipped out a dustpan and brush; the dancers sailed on without a hitch. Fille has roots in the countryside and in pantomime, so it’s no surprise it can go from airy to practical and back again.

Until 22 October. Box office. 020 7304 4000