Our Brexit-blighted summer is over and the toxic clouds of Trumpageddon continue to gather across the Atlantic. At least there’s the prospect of some springtime-set loveliness at Covent Garden in the form of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée. This 1960 ballet is like pure vitamin D for the soul – an intoxicating brew of broad comedy, clog dancing and plush Ashtonian classicism, complete with an actual pony.
As Lise, the wayward daughter of the title, newly-minted principal Francesca Hayward is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Not only is she an exquisite custodian of the Ashton style – all beautifully angled épaulement, zipping footwork and luminously musical phrasing – she’s also a fine comic performer. There’s a palpable edge of scowling teenage petulance to the interactions with her obstructive mother Widow Simone (Thomas Whitehead on busty, bustling, bossy form in this travesti role), who plans to marry off Lise to Alain (David Yudes), the gormless son of a wealthy vineyard owner.
Lise, of course, is in love with farmhand Colas (Marcelino Sambé) and they set about duping Widow Simone and snatching kisses on the sly. With his expansive jump and fizzing turns, Sambé is a match for Hayward’s technical amplitude, but in partnership they are sublime – there’s an inventive mischievousness to the pair’s Act I horseplay dances (he gives extra oomph to the head-shaking whinny) which matures into the tender, melting lyricism of the final pas de deux. Elsewhere, the corps provided tightly-timed support, swooping with their scythes and expertly weaving their way through the maypole dance.
And then of course there’s Peregrine the stumpy snow-white pony. He’s in possession of a luxurious mane, a bright red harness and the sturdiest rump in the company, which on Thursday evening produced a massive unplanned turd. It was ceremoniously swept up by his attendant while conductor Barry Wordsworth held the orchestra at bay. Far from adding an unwelcome dose of gritty reality to proceedings, Peregrine’s sudden scatological incident only added to the humour and charm of this most bucolic of ballets.
La Fille Mal Gardée is on until 22nd October 2016 at the ROH. Click here for more details.