Reviews: Dance; Ashton's 'fille' is now in safe hands

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La Fille mal gardee

Scottish Ballet

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

The cloud that settled upon Scottish Ballet a few months ago turns out to have a silver lining. Now assured of continuing funding (even if the exact lines have yet to be determined), the company needed a quick replacement for the proposed new ballet lost during the earlier crisis. And for this it has been given the most welcome Christmas present imaginable: the happiest, sunniest of all modern ballets, Frederick Ashton's . Birmingham Royal Ballet has generously loaned the scenery and costumes, and Alexander Grant, one of the work's original stars, came to supervise the staging.

In one form or another, the story of how young Lise and her farmer lover overcame her mother's preference for a richer but silly suitor has been delighting ballet audiences for over 200 years.

Ashton's version, created in 1960, must be the finest ever. He kept all the best elements from earlier treatments, but made everything look so fresh and true that it never feels old-fashioned.

The brilliance of the solos, the tenderness of the duets, the liveliness of the ensembles are only part of its appeal. Even more important are the richness of the portraits, the depth of feeling and the non-stop flow of comic incidents, especially those involving the big red umbrella that almost becomes a character in its own right.

Scottish Ballet's dancers rise to the occasion. In the opening cast, Yurie Shinohara makes a delicious Lise, sweet and loving in personality, swift and light in dancing; and Kenn Burke plays her mother, Widow Simone, with warmth and humour in what is better described as a feminine characterisation than female impersonation. Just the slightest touch less bottom-wiggling and this will be perfect.

Campbell McKenzie plays the hero, Colas, robustly, and Glasgow audiences last week had a bonus: four guest appearances by Wayne Sleep as the stupid rival Alain. He gives the role a striking but not over-done lubricity, and his comic timing is always joyously right.

Other dancers will share all these roles during the run; at a matinee, I liked especially the promising debut of Ari Takahashi as Lise, to whom she gave an attractively gauche charm. The whole supporting company (augmented for this production) deserves credit too for the spirited naturalness of all its scenes.

A wish to keep its own flexible freelance orchestra (rather than being forced to share a band with the opera company) was one factor in Scottish Ballet's recent problems; the animation with which the orchestra here played John Lanchbery's colourful score under Alan Barker's direction made a strong case for them.

'': to Sat, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen (01224 641122); 16-27 Dec, Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131 529 6000); 29 Dec - 10 Jan, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (0141 332 9000)