Performing Arts: Dance
May 29, 2016
Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée (The Unchaperoned Daughter) is one of those works of art, a flawless confection of the classical ballet repertory, that one can return to again and again, and be completely absorbed, moved and entertained, all in one breezy evening. ABT’s restaging of this 20th–century classic (a 1960 reimagining by Ashton based on the original 1789 libretto by Jean Dauberval) captures the innocence, wit and charm of one of the oldest and most popular ballets of all time: a lovely vehicle for Misty Copeland (Lise) and Herman Cornejo (Colas), two beloved ABT principals who relished the opportunity to dance and be funny at the same time.

The bucolic countryside mood is set right from the first scene, when four chickens and a rooster awaken to dance a vaudevillian-inspired routine with tap shuffle steps and entrechat quatres interspersed with wing flapping and scratching for worms. To tell the story of a young girl in love, whose domineering mother wants her to marry for money, but in the end marries for love, Ashton weaves technically demanding solos, group dances, and bits of pantomime into a clear, fluid dance narrative that both challenges and showcases Copeland and Cornejo’s considerable abilities. But in this Fille, everyone dances hard – the men’s stick dance has more double tours than you can count, and Lise’s friends must have crystalline footwork – and the ABT dancers took to Ashton’s incomparable use of the upper body, directional changes, and intricate choreography with technical clarity and an infectious joy.

The beautiful line of Copeland’s legs and feet and her use of épaulement are a lovely antidote to the slapstick runs and silliness that ensues as she constantly attempts to escape her mother, the Widow Simone, larger than life and brilliantly played by Roman Zhurbin. Together they expertly captured the tensions between a young woman and her mother, with the constant clashes tempered by touching moments of unbridled affection. The boyish Cornejo tossed off the technical demands packed into his first solo, all managed while holding a big stick. Ashton uses props throughout, with ribbons as both literal and symbolic gestures. In one of many poetic moments, Lise’s friends promenade her as they run in a circle while holding ribbons she is using to balance in attitude on one foot – friendship ties. As she lets go of them, Colas, her true love, comes in to support her, in a poetic transition from girlhood to womanhood in full bloom.

Copeland’s spunky Lise tries to avoid everything from boring chores to marrying Alain, the unattractive rich man’s son, goofily danced by Craig Salstein. Salstein, who went from the dorky, lumbering postures to the speedy petit allegro in his solo with ease, strikes the right balance between character and caricature. Copeland came into her own in Act II, especially during her tenderly pantomimed longing for marriage and children. And in the final pas de deux, where the choreography and music meld into a sweetly moving expression of love, she and Cornejo beautifully projected the fullness of their feelings through simple gestures and fluid dancing.

Speaking of Fille, Ashton said, “There exists in my imagination a life in the country of eternally late spring, a leafy pastoral of perpetual sunshine and the humming of bees – the suspended stillness of a Constable landscape of my beloved Suffolk, luminous and calm.” And this is the gift he has given us, an ode to life’s simpler charms, a romp with a good dose of humor, touched by nostalgia and told through heartfelt, poetic dance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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