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La Fille mal Gardée

Royal Opera House

THERoyal Ballet is having a great season as it celebrates Frederick Ashton's centenary. Having opened with Sylvia, not seen in its full three acts for a half a century, it followed that with another Ashton classic. The top pairing at the House might be Jonathan Cope with either Sylvie Guillem or Darcey Bussell, but for me it remains Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru, and I know women will mercilessly attack me for denying them descriptions of Carlos Acosta's rippling thighs and dusky Cuban complexion, but he is in the alternative cast.

I still have their performances in Manon in the 2002/03 season dancing in my head. While Manon was all gloom and certain doom, La Fille is all daylight, cockerels and hens and a mother (Alastair Marriott) who could have doubled as one of Cinderella's ugly sisters.

Widow Simone wants her daughter, Lise (Cojocaru), to court Alain (Giacomo Ciriaci), the rich vineyard owner's son, which frankly was never going to happen. She is in love with Colas (Kobborg), a young farmer. Alain is a gormless individual, a bit like a Jerry Lewis looking for his Dean Martin. He is not someone for the wispy, tender and beautiful Cojocaru. He is weak, bullied by his father, Thomas (Christopher Saunders), and passionless. Kobborg is strong, loyal and romantic. You could see him stand in front of Cojocaru to protect her from a stampede of raging bulls. Alain would run away and then, from his place of safety, shout feebly, "Watch out!" Pathetic. Even the harvesting farmhands take the piss out of him, particularly his ill-judged attempt to play the flute. He may have a rich dad, but he is love's pauper.

Maypole ribbons

Cojocaru and Kobborg have been dance partners for so long now that it is more than just practice that draws them together in breathtaking pas de deux. But Kobborg for once has to share Cojocaru on stage, with Marriott. The interplay between the mother and daughter is both entertaining and funny, with timing to match anything Morcambe and Wise could produce in another genre. The Widow's clog dance is a highlight, and the maypole dance is a joyous celebration that is interrupted by the storm that breaks out sending the dancers and maypole ribbons in all directions. It is a marvellous and stunning effect.

Colas and Lise overcome all the attempts to keep them apart and, indeed, are inadvertently drawn together when Lise is sent to her room, where Colas has already gone to hide. The notary arrives with Thomas and Alain and all are shocked when Lise and Colas come out of the bedroom together. Lise begs her mother to let her be with Colas. This she agrees to.

The score, John Lanchbery's adaptation of Ferdinand Herold's original, never keeps you uninterested, and conductor Anthony Twiner maintains the right balance to the many changes in pace with the orchestra seeming to enjoy every minute.

Review by Peter Wilson

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