Frederick Ashton Birmingham Royal Ballet Lowry Lyric Salford 24 October 2018 to 27 October 2018
Frederick Ashton’s 1960 rustic idyll is one of the most joyous and innocent works in the ballet repertoire. Loosely based on a scenario that goes back to the 18th century, it tells a seemingly timeless tale of rural life: Lise, a pretty young girl, is in love with young farmer Colas, but her widowed mother, Simone, wants her to marry the son of prosperous M. Thomas – one Alain, who, is a bit of a country bumpkin.
Act 1 outlines the situation, Act 2 is a peasants’ harvest celebration ending in a sudden storm, and in Act 3 there’s nearly a forced marriage but in the end it all turns out happily, followed by general rejoicing.
The staging is enchanting, from the dancing rooster and chickens who begin it, a live Shetland pony, a lot of ribbon twirling (part of the original tradition of this ballet), a clog dance and a Maypole to the final sentimental twist (which I won’t reveal in case you haven’t seen it).
So, though the setting is ostensibly French, in style the ballet is utterly English: the prima ballerina’s role all daintiness and charm, the leading man all nobility and grace – with the music-hall tradition of female impersonation given to the man who plays Widow Simone – and a string of circling country-dance style movements for the corps de ballet.
I guess that’s why David Bintley has chosen it as one of two company ‘signature’ works for his final year’s big tours with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Though I think it’s now 12 years since we last saw it at The Lowry, it used to be a regular both here and elsewhere.
(Which meant that the big surprise on Press night was not that it was beautifully danced, or that the audience loved it, but that it didn’t draw as many punters as it should have done … perhaps they forgot to do the marketing on this one.)
BRB has long been a family of performers, and this time I think in the casting we were being told: ‘This is the next generation – watch them …’ Miki Mizutani was as delightful a Lise as I’ve ever seen, with plenty of smiles and teenager-like pouts to express her surging feelings. Lachlan Monaghan was superb as Colas, with some magnificent jumps and completely equipped for all the lifts. Kit Holder, as Alain, and Rory Mackay, as Widow Simone, produced some very funny comic dancing, and Gus Payne (the cockerel) and his ladies strutted their stuff.
Paul Murphy conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in a lively reading of John Lanchbery’s score.