Pennsylvania Ballet

March 4, 2005

Pennsylvania Ballet
Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA

March 4–12, 2005

Reviewed by Lisa Kraus


When Sir Frederick Ashton began creating La Fille mal gardée (The Wayward Daughter), Tamara Karsavina advised him to make the ballet “charm with innocence.” He accomplished just that with buffoonery, longing lovers, and a plethora of barnyard creatures. Pennsylvania Ballet’s rendition catches Ashton’s spirit of effervescent pleasure.

Set in a country village, Fille tells of the lissome Lise (the girlish and elegantly crisp Julie Diana), daughter of the Widow Simone, who is played with broad slapstick, following English music hall tradition, by a man—in this case, Alexei Borovik. Lise loves Colas (James Ady), a handsome but humble farmer, but is promised to the wealthier but doltish Alain (Matthew Neenan). How Lise manages to get her man, despite a slew of comic mishaps, is the spine of the story. Ashton embroiders it with repeating themes: comic interludes for dancing chickens, imaginative variations on ribbon dances, tender pas de deux, and country dances with sticks and sickles.

Diana’s sailing split-leap jumps and wide-eyed astonishment make her a delicious Lise. Impeccably she executes a slowly rotating attitude turn, balanced without support under a canopy of streaming ribbons. Ady squires her well with buoyant jumps and a healthy earnestness. One of his solos with strings of pirouette variations brings bravos.

As the Widow, Borovik’s overblown gestures and pratfalls provoke guffaws. A clog dance is his tour de force. And Neenan’s Alain flashes a goofy megawatt grin and goes at his demonically challenging character steps with gusto.

Tempering the company’s lighthearted ease and air of proficiency were occasional less-than-ideal spacing, lifts lacking the requisite lightness, and unisons in the largest group dances that aren’t quite. While most of the acting was excellent, a lack of continuity marred the performances of some of the male corps. More distressing was the repeated lemony-sour pitch in some of the violins and occasionally the horns—perplexing in an orchestra with such a fine sound overall.

Referring to Beethoven’s euphoric work, Ashton called Fille his “poor man’s ‘Pastorale Symphony.’ ” Staged by Emilio Martins, with every detail given final approval by original Royal Ballet cast member Alexander Grant, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Fille renders that symphony in a ballet-going experience of nearly unencumbered delight.

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