La Fille mal gardée, Palais Garnier, Saturday, July 4, 2015
While the program notes speak of how Constable and Wordsworth inspired Sir Frederick Ashton’s vision of “La Fille mal gardée,” Saturday night’s performance made me rush home to dig up my worn little volumes of Beatrix Potter.
The first thing you can’t help noticing about Eléonore Guerineau/Lise are her unusually pliant big bunny feet which in the course of the evening will effortlessly propel her into soaring grand jétés which seem to hover mid-air. With a most supple back and softly precise – never cookie-cutter – épaulement, her huge and open arabesques delight the eye. I’ve rarely seen more buttery and skybound temps-levé fouettés. The choreography really tests just about all facets of a ballerina’s technique and this debutante seems to have not only that but the gift of expression. From way up there, I didn’t need my binoculars.
Osbert Lancaster must have borrowed Colas’s costume from Peter Rabbit. As he sneaks into this forbidden garden the music says “rascally rabbit.” Fabien Révillion’s characterization, however, feels more like “joyous country gentleman.” His elegant dance varies in attack and works through phrases that often slightly decelerate at the end to call your eyes to one last flourish, as in the “wine bottle” turns in attitude. While he can turn slightly in at times, he always catches that and pulls himself back into place with flair.
When these two got together, their lines and musical timing fit so naturally that I hope Paris will keep casting this adorable couple. They share the same poise and ballon, have that same feeling for letting energy out and pulling it back in, for a rallentando that lets steps breathe. They hear the same music, their arms float into matching shapes, they even tilt their heads the same way. The ribbon metaphor – where are they heading if not to “tie the knot?” – gets expressed through the lilting partnering itself. They spool and unspool in endless ways. I particularly admired how he whooshed her delightful arabesques across the floor.
It comes as no surprise that this Colas keeps tenderly nibbling bits of Lise at every opportunity. He’ll make a most attentive husband and most reliable son-in-law.
Aurélien Houette has used the years to peel away at how Widow Simone, with all the spanking and slapping and ear-pulling she indulges in, can be kind of creepy. Mrs. Samuel Whiskers has been refined into a Mrs. Tiggywinkle with a touch of mischief. Dreadfully nostalgic about once having been the life of the party, you do feel she is related to her daughter (this is not always the case). Both brim with life.
Our Alain, Mathieu Contat, was less of a dorky clown and more of a cross between a dandy and Mr. MacGregor’s scarecrow. His arms hung really loose and the strings that attached his flapping hands were stretched to the breaking point. Intentionally stiff, small, almost abortive, plies and really tiny steps unexpectedly added a touch of dignity. This Alain, while faithful to his umbrella, clearly wants Lise…if only to add her to his menagerie. I am convinced this one’s bedroom at the manor is stuffed full of birdcages, goldfish bowls, and hamster wheels. The only thing he doesn’t have yet is a soft little bunny to call his own.
At the very end, Révillion’s gentleness in readjusting Lise’s dress before the final pose provoked a whispered “awwwh” from my neighbor. This couple really does deserve to be blessed with a litter of ten. Before James can beat me to it, I award them the “bread and milk and blackberries for supper” Balleto d’or.