It’s just over a week since I moved, and I am almost completely unpacked and stowed. I have very nearly reached the stage where the last few items will fit in the bottom of the wardrobe (& can then be forgotten about for a while). I just need to rationalise two last boxes into one, and find a home for my Tupperware.
I celebrated on Wednesday by going out with the Dipterist to one of those Royal ballet cinema relays, preceded by a meal out at Nando's. Peri-peri chicken is one of the dishes that makes me wonder if I am really a natural vegetarian, as I remember it always being simply delicious, but I was good and had a halloumi and mushroom burger and stewed black beans. Yum yum yum. Then “La Fille Mal Gardée”, which is also yum yum yum. Particularly yum, as the Dip remarked, with Steven McRae in tight yellow trousers.
It’s hard to describe the unique charm of “La Fille Mal Gardée” without making it sound simply very, very silly. I suppose to a modern, tired, cynical mind the idea of a pastoral world where true love always wins the day and the harvest is gathered by smiling people in matching blue smocks is so obviously silly it doesn’t need saying. Well, it may be so; but this is joyfully, entrancedly, defiantly silly; silly and happy, and as dreamlike as any memory of the Best Ever Summer of your childhood. Like that childhood memory, too, it has an undertone of pathos, a sense of anticipated, even accepted, loss. Was it ever real, your Perfect Summer? Is the ideal of perfect love ever real? – yet we still remember the perfect summer, and we still believe in the perfect love. Lise and Colas play, kiss, flirt, tie each other up in pink ribbons, and then suddenly stop, looking into one another's eyes with quiet amazement, rapt away in love. I was about to say it is possibly Ashton's masterpiece; but then I thought of "The Dream", and "Marguerite and Armand", and "A Month in the Country", and "Cinderella"... Did he make anything that isn't masterly, I wonder?
I think part of why we believe in their love story is because they are so credibly human; this is no grand passion à la Romeo and Juliet, and there are no grand gestures. The lovers are plainly potty about one another, but they are quite capable both of squabbling, and of being patient with one another. Lise’s vision of the future includes a beautiful wedding in a lovely dress, but also pregnancy and dealing with naughty children. I’ve burbled before about the onstage chemistry between McRae and his regular partner Roberta Marquez, and here they are entirely believable as they fool about and then embrace tenderly.
The pathos comes in the touching character of Alain, the half-witted eligible would-be bridegroom who Lise and Colas outwit, and also in little nuances all the way through; in flickers of expression, the curl of a hand, the energy of a jump, the electricity of a shared glance or a smile. Marquez’ expression at the climax of the longest “pink ribbons” dance (the “Fanny Elssler pas de deux”) when she is lifted up and drops the handful of ribbons she is holding, is exquisite. One moment she is the astonishing turning centre of a human maypole, the next it’s gone, and her face says “Oh, that was so pretty! – and it’s over...”; delight and regret battle for a moment as the ribbons flutter away. There is another lovely little moment as Farmer Thomas loses his temper at the end, and the Widow Simone, who seconds before was stamping her feet in hissy frustration at her daughter’s disobedience, leaps to Lise’s defence like a small round lioness – “Don’t you dare speak to my girl like that!”
In Ludovic Ondiviela they’ve got an excellent interpreter for the tricky part of Alain; he managed to convey the boy’s hopeless naivety and mental deficiency, but also his innate sweetness of nature. I don’t suppose anyone trying to make this story into a ballet today would get away with the character Ashton made of Alain. It’s obvious that he has what we now call special educational needs – I expect in 1960 it was still perfectly acceptable to call him a simpleton – and sometimes he can seem a cringe-making grotesque. Ondiviela has both the technical skill to carry off the extraordinarily tricky unballetic choreography and the acting chops to make Alain a sympathetic figure rather than an embarrassing one.
Marquez is delightful, her elfin beauty and sparkling footwork a perfect fit for the mischievous Lise. People with more ballet know-how than me tell me she is one of the company’s weaker principals technically; perhaps so, but she has character and charm in buckets. As her Colas, McRae is in his element; he can pull off all the technical demands with an air of absolute insouciance that makes you (almost) forget what incredibly difficult stuff this must be. Having seen Acosta (on Dvd) I really don’t want to see a Colas who looks remotely unsteady or uncertain! – but that’s unlikely ever to be a problem for Mr McRae, and his characterisation of a good-hearted, cocky, full of himself but deeply romantic boy is spot-on as well.
It made for a lovely, lovely, happy evening out.
Now I’m off and away for two weeks’ annual leave. Usually I go to Greece at this time of year. Nothing is booked as yet, but I will probably still try to make a trip, since I’m not planning on going to Athens and I gather that everywhere else is still very peaceful and normal. To begin with, though, I have a long weekend with my mother; peace and quiet down in Kent...