Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saga of the score for the ballet "La Fille mal gardee" shown May 16th in Israel


Choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton

With the first season of Royal Opera House Cinema Season drawing to a close, audiences in cinemas throughout the world were able to see Frederick Ashton’s version of the ballet “La Fille mal gardée” in real time May 16th 2012, as it was being performed by the Royal Ballet in London. This writer attended the showing at the Rav Chen Cinema, Jerusalem.

“La Fille mal gardée” (The Wayward Daughter) is one of the oldest ballets still popular and performed today. Originally conceived by the 18th century chorographer Jean Dauberval and premiered in Bordeaux in 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, it was originally titled “Le Ballet de la Paille” (Ballet of the Straw). One of the best-loved modern versions is Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1960 staging of the ballet. The plot is simple - a naïve boy-meets-girl story, taking place in an English village. The setting connects with Frederick Ashton’s great love of the English countryside, the “suspended stillness of the Constable landscape of my beloved Suffolk” and all things English, the beauty of the region serving as a great inspiration to the choreographer. He created a romance and a comedy, but it is the range of dance styles he introduced into it that remind us of his choreographic genius. Ashton was inspired by dance in general: here he combines traditional English country folk dances – such as the Maypole dance and the clog dance - with classical ballet, weaving folk styles in with classical ballet technique. Prior to the evening’s performance we attended on May 16th, former principal dancer and present director of the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, spoke of the Royal Ballet’s first performance of “La Fille” in 1960, in which she had danced. She described it as one of the most exciting premieres she remembers at Covent Garden.

“La Fille mal gardée” is the story of Lise, a beautiful, coquettish village girl, who is in love with Colas, a farmer, the twist in the plot being that Lise’s mother, Widow Simone, wants her daughter to marry Alain, the half-witted, umbrella-obsessed son of a wealthy landowner. Finally, following the signing of the wedding contract with Alain, his father and a notary, Alain is given the key to Lise’s room, into which Lise has been locked, only to find her there in her wedding dress together with Colas. Love triumphs, all is forgiven and Lise and Colas can remain together.

The backdrop of this production is a richly colorful painted country scene. Indeed, color was a key element in this production, with costumes a blaze of hues, synonymous with the joy of a rustic community, and a sense of community prevailed throughout the performance. Farmyard chickens have been associated with productions of “La Fille” since its early staging (the 1885 performance of it by the Imperial Ballet featuring live chickens). The Royal Ballet’s present production featured them as four colored, plump characters together with a cockerel, dancing in delightful avian style and searching the ground for grains.

One of the more unique items of Ashton’s “La Fille” is the intricate Ribbon Dance, in which Lise (Roberta Marquez) and Colas (Steven McRae) dance a pas de deux connected by a pink ribbon, which they twist around themselves, Ashton’s interpretation of the “lovers’ knot”. Ribbons appear as a motif throughout the ballet, representing the association of love. Then there is the clog dance, traditional to the north of England, which was danced with humor and brilliance by Philip Mosley with a small group, he, as the heroine’s mother Widow Simone, dressed in British pantomime fashion, the role traditionally danced by a man. All the lead roles were performed outstandingly, the corps de ballet also of high quality; the story’s simplicity was well recounted with no need for words, the main characters using facial expression to depict the emotions of the rustic characters at different stages of the story. Ludovic Ondiviela made an excellent Alain, his flexibility and gestures portraying the village idiot with a fine balance of skill and pantomime.

And to the history of the music that accompanied the ballet. Since its earliest performances, the musical score to “La Fille mal gardée” has undergone immense changes. At the time it was created, the role of ballet composer was not that of a highly respected compoer, the music probably being an assortment of existing melodies arranged by the first violinist of the ballet orchestra. In 1829, the French dancer and choreographer Jean-Pierre Aumer commissioned a score from Ferdinand Hérold. Hérold put together themes from popular operas, such as Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and “Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra”, Paul Igidi Martini’s “Le Droit du Seigneur” and Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore”. However, in 1864, the German dancer and ballet master Paul Taglioni requested a completely new score from the Berlin Königlichen Opernhaus resident ballet composer Peter Ludwig Hertel. In 1885, the latter version was also used by the influential French dancer, ballet master and choreographer together with his Russian counterpart Lev Ivanov in St. Petersburg, but with music by Ludwig Minkus added to it. Founder choreographer of the Royal Ballet in London, Frederick Ashton wanted to use Hertel’s 1864 score, but on studying it, decided that Hérold’s music would be more suitable to his needs. In the meantime, composer Malcolm Arnold left the project and composer John Lanchbery eventually agreed to take it on, basing the music for Ashton’s choreography on Hérold’s arrangement, the score of which he and Ashton found at the New York POB Library. The score included no notes on the story and no music for mime scenes etc., so Lanchbery incorporated part of Hertel’s score from the St. Petersburg staging. Ashton and Lanchbery worked together on the score for eight weeks, matching action to music, with Lanchbery composing more sections to blend with both Hérold and Hertel’s music. He orchestrated the full score and created character leitmotifs for Widow Simone and Colas and a “disaster” theme. The result was a fine supportive score working hand-in-glove with Ashton’s choreography. In the May 16th 2012 performance, Barry Wordsworth, music director of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, conducted the Royal Opera House Orchestra, breathing joie-de-vivre and orchestral color into Lanchbery’s score.

1 comment:

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