American Ballet Theatre

'La Fille mal gardée'

by Kate Snedeker

May 23, 2003 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

In Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, Alain, the childlike son of Thomas, the vineyard owner, carries with him a beloved red umbrella. It was a familiar sight in the Metropolitan Opera House, as New Yorkers carried in their own colorful assortment of umbrellas, struggling in from the endlessly rainy weather. During the onstage storm, Alain’s umbrella catches the wind and sweeps him up, up and away. Similarly, Friday’s delightful opening performance of La Fille male gardée, led by Angel Corella and Xiomara Reyes, with Osbert Lancaster’s brightly colored sets and costumes, swept the audience away from the gloomy New York weather into the humorous, fanciful world of the lovers Lise and Colas.

American Ballet Theater’s version of La Fille mal gardée, staged by Alexander Grant, Christopher Carr and Grant Coyle to Ferdinand Herold’s music, begins with the droll dance of the chickens. The strutting, flapping dance, performed with perfect timing and wittiness by Dartanion Reed and his retinue of hens, provides a perfect entrance into the rural and gaily innocent world where the ballet takes place. It’s a village, free of the worries and complications of the modern world, where chickens and cocks can dance.

As the young lovers Lise and Colas, Xiomara Reyes and Angel Corella were appropriately youthful, exhibiting a pleasant and believable connection. With their shorter physiques and cheeky energy, they were believable as young lovers, a realism often lost in productions cast with older, taller dancers. The petite Reyes conveyed the youthful energy of Lise with her quick precise footwork and spins, dashing across the stage to greet Colas or to escape the wrath of her mother, the Widow Simone.

In Ashton’s ballets, the female character roles are often played by male dancers in drag. The role of the Widow Simone is no exception, and American Ballet Theatre ballet master Kirk Peterson, clad in voluminous green striped dress, was suitably comic Widow Simone. Peterson brought a nice balance to the role, his Widow Simone funny and overbearing, but still believable as a caring, if overprotective mother. The mime was well done, with excellent timing and wonderful facial expressions from Peterson and Reyes. In the clog dance, Peterson hammed it up with deadpan humor, clopping away to the rollicking tune, though the steps seemed to diverge from the music at times.

The other farcical character, Alain was danced by the almost unrecognizable Joaquin de Luz. Alain is an oddity, a little daft and most eccentric, and even in this fictional world, he does not fit in. DeLuz made Alain a delightful, but innocent eccentric, dancing with a very natural, off-balanced zaniness. It was a well thought out characterization, the dancing powerful with tricky jumps and gymnastic feats, yet performed with an endearing innocence. This was an Alain who was eccentric, but pure of heart.

Angel Corella was a natural Colas, his youthful appearance and energetic, eager dancing a perfect match for the role. With unerring comic timing, and a mischievous grin, he snuck around the Widow Simone’s attempts to keep Lise away from him. The ribbon dance in the first act was especially well performed, Corella’s ribbon rippling in fluid arcs, Reyes jumping nimbly back and forth. In the third act solo, Corella was particularly impressive in beautifully controlled series of pirouettes that speeded up and slowed down as the working leg switched back and forth from second position to passé. Corella has always been a spectacular dancer, but as he has matured, he has gained enormous control without sacrificing speed or flow.

Perhaps the most touching moment in the ballet, however, was when Colas emerged from the pile of hay placed in the Widow Simone’s house. The slightly goofy but mischievously eager expression on Corella’s face as his head popped out from the pile and the expression of pleased surprise on Reyes’ face were perfect illustrations of the joy and spirit of young love. It was a wonderfully danced and acted performance, a perfect way to escape the damp weather, and an ideal break between the deeper, more emotionally draining productions of HereAfter and Romeo and Juliet.

Brian Reeder was the Village Notary and Ethan Brown, Alain’s rich father. Brad Field lit the production and David LaMarche conducted.

May 28, 2003 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York

In the season’s final performance of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, youth and sparkling technique were in ample abundance. With Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel as Lise and Colas, and Herman Cornejo as the dimwitted Alain, this comic ballet was given relaxed and lighthearted performance, packed full of outstanding dancing.

Gillian Murphy was delightfully fresh-faced Lise, a perfect match for Ethan Stiefel’s carefree, lanky Colas. From first sight, they had an easy and deep connection, as strong when they were across the stage from each other as when they were embracing. From this powerful connection came an electric feeling that crackled when the two were onstage together. These were lovers destined to be together, no matter what obstacles were thrown in their path. Their ribbon dance was full of tenderness and humor, with stunning dancing from Murphy. The ending had to be improvised when Stiefel’s carefully tied knot failed to release, leaving the lovers with a tangled loop of ribbon, but Stiefel and Murphy covered up well for the now impossible choreography.

Victor Barbee’s caring and energetic Widow Simone was perfect opposite youthful Murphy’s Lise. Outfitted in a rather daringly short skirted dress, this Widow Simone was quite capable of keeping up with her “misbehaving” daughter, though none-the-less exhausted by the end of the day. Barbee’s acting was full of motion and well-timed comedy. His clog dance was especially notable, with long slides, extra bounce and tap in the steps and facial expressions that added even more humor to the moment. The final act swoon, when Alain opens the bedroom door and the Widow Simone sees the lovers in full embrace was delightfully funny, with much fussing and fretting, and a quite a few glasses of wine.

As the slightly daft, but always entertaining Alain, Herman Cornejo was outstanding. His more delicate and loose limbed characterization was perfect against Stiefel’s relaxed, long limbed Colas. Cornejo, showing off his huge leaps, amazing technique and comic timing, had just the right power and style, so that he was the perfect idiot reflection of Stiefel. Both men are from the place, but one the village idiot and one the the village heartthrob-a study in opposites, with the best man winning. To see this opposition of character so well illustrated in the dancing gave the otherwise simple storyline some refreshing depth.

In both the first and second act pas de deuxs, Stiefel and Murphy demonstrated their individual talents. Murphy danced with breezy speed, and showed off her natural turning ability, whipping off dazzling multiple pirouettes. Elegantly proportioned with sleekly long limbs, Stiefel has a very finished quality to his dancing. This quality was apparent in the nicely controlled landings to his high grand jetes, beautifully positioned leg in attitude derriere and controlled, if not extra fast series of turns in second. In the first act, he finished his solo with a series of quick turns in fourth position that were well executed, though a slightly odd choice of steps. The pirouettes that ended his second act solo seemed much more in keeping with the rest of the choreography and were a much better demonstration of his talents.

The corps danced with equal energy and gaiety, David Hallberg yet again standing out for his exquisitely pointed feet and elegant style. Ormsby Wilkins conducted, with Brad Fields responsible for the lighting and Osbert Lancaster the set and costume design.

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