Is this ballet for you?
Go If: Girly and funny stories with plenty of romance, ribbons and happy endings are your thing and you simply can’t get enough of Ashton. You are bringing your kids or friends to see a ballet for the first time and need something light and fluffy to start with.
Skip If: People dressed as animals freak you out. Fille is not quite as bad as Tales of Beatrix Potter in that regard but it does feature dancing chickens, a rooster and even a real pony.
Lise: Marianela Nuñez is the quintessential ray-of-sunshine Fille.
Colas: Carlos Acosta is perfect for the cheeky Colas.
History & Background
La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) is one of the oldest ballets still regularly performed. It was originally conceived by Jean Dauberval, an important choreographer in the 18th century. He is said to have been inspired by Pierre Antoine Baudouin’s La Réprimande/Une Jeune Fille Querellée par Sa Mère (1789), a painting he was greatly amused by. This resulted in a musical pastiche called Le Ballet de la Paille (Ballet of the Straw) which told the story of Lison and Colin and their tricks to get Lison’s mother, the widow Ragotte, to accept their romance. Le Ballet de la Paille premiered July 1789 in Bordeaux.
The ballet was later renamed La Fille Mal Gardée and staged in a number of theatres, in different versions:
- 1791 - First staging in London (Pantheon Theatre) by Dauberval with the title La Fille Mal Gardée.
- 1803 – Staging at the old Paris Opera by Eugène Hus (the original Colin/Colas) adapted from Dauberval’s version.
- 1808 – Hus’s Paris staging is brought to Vienna (at the Ballett des Imperialen Hoftheater Nächst der Burg) by Dauberval student Jean-Pierre Aumer.
- 1828 – Paris Opera revival. Aumer instructs composer Ferdinand Hérold to adapt the original 1789 score. New themes from operas by Jean-Paul Egide Martini and Gaetano Donizetti are added.
- 1837 – Paris Opera ballerina Fanny Elssler insists on a new tailored version of the Grand Pas de Deux with her favourite arias from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore.
- 1864 – Berlin staging (at the Königliches Opernhaus) by Paul Taglioni under the title Das Schlecht Bewachte Mädchen (The Badly Guarded Girl) to a new score by resident ballet music composer Peter Ludwig Hertel. The ballet is a success and stays in repertoire for many years.
- 1800 – First staging in Moscow (Imperial Bolshoi Theatre) by Giuseppe Solomoni, using the 1789 score.
- 1818 – Staging at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theatre by (Dauberval student and ballet master) Charles Didelot with the title La Precaution Inutile ou Lise et Colin and music by Catterino Cavos.
- 1828 – Revival at the Imperial Theatre. Jules Perrot stages Aumer’s 1828 version to a new score by Cesare Pugni.
In 1885 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov decided to bring Taglioni’s 1864 Fille to the Imperial Ballet, renaming it Le Precaution Inutile. Virginia Zucchi danced Lise and became a legend, with tales of audiences moved to tears by her rendition of the “when I am married” mime and her technical prowess in the challenging Pas de Ruban, where ribbons are used as props. The ballet stayed in repertoire until the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Modern audiences might be familiar with two more recent versions of Fille: one by Alexander Gorsky and the other by Sir Frederick Ashton. Gorsky’s was based on the Petipa/Ivanov version and was staged in Moscow in 1903. This version was brought to the West by Anna Pavlova and was staged at the Ballet Theatre (now ABT) by Bronislava Nijinska in 1940. In 1972 ABT made another version derived from Dauberval’s Fille which became a great success and was danced by such famous performers as Baryshnikov, Kirkland, Jaffe, Gregory, Bujones & Makarova. It remained in their repertoire until 2002 when ABT acquired Ashton’s version.
Frederick Ashton’s Fille was his way of paying tribute to his own nature, his love for the country, its feeling of innocence and eternal spring. Fille was to become “his poor man’s Pastorale [from Beethoven]“. Ashton had to overcome a number of hurdles to realise his project: some were opposed to this simple “Boy Meets Girl” story; he had wanted to use Hertel’s 1864 score but after researching decided Hérold’s circa 1828 would be a better fit. He also had to find a new musical collaborator after composer Malcolm Arnold quit the project. It was John Lanchbery who finally agreed to work with him on a new score for Fille using Hérold’s as a basis (see Music section below).
Tamara Karsavina, who had danced Fille in Russia with the Mariinsky was of great help. She briefed Ashton on the historical significance of the ballet and taught him the mime from the scene where Lise dreams of being married with kids. Ashton worked closely with Lanchbery on the music and developed his own story libretto from details of an early Paris production he had found in the British Library. Breaking the music into dance and mime sequences he resurrected the Pas de Ruban for Lise and Colas, taking the ribbon props to new heights.
For the leading roles Ashton chose principals who had a strong level of technique, tailoring solos to their strengths. Nadia Nerina was famed for having a strong jump which was put to display on the harvesting scene solo. At the time (1960) there was a feeling that the choreography might be too challenging for future dancers to learn. Some were also opposed to what was perceived as excessive use of ribbons and props but Fille eventually premiered to rapturous reception by critics and audiences.
More than 22 companies around the world, including the Bolshoi and the Paris Opera, currently have Ashton’s Fille in their repertoire. For many it is considered the definitive version of the ballet. Alexander Grant, creator of the role of Alain and heir to the rights of Fille and Façade, now oversees stagings of the ballet worldwide.
Lise, a beautiful young villager, is in love with Colas, a farmer. They want to get married but Lise’s mother, widow Simone, has arranged to marry Lise off to Alain, the dimwitted, umbrella-obsessed son of Thomas, a rich countryman.
The ballet opens with widow Simone trying to keep Lise busy and out of trouble with Colas. But at every opportunity the young lovers outwit her, kissing and flirting. To celebrate the harvest widow Simone and Lise go for a picnic with Thomas and Alain. Villagers and farmers dance around a maypole and Lise’s friends do a clog dance together with widow Simone. The festivities are interrupted by a storm, the crowd is dispersed and Alain is swept away as he clings on to his precious umbrella.
Lise and widow Simone return home. The farmers come to deliver the wheat harvest and receive their payment. While widow Simone fixes them drinks, she instructs Lise to return to her chores. Instead of working Lise daydreams of getting married to Colas and becoming a mother (the famous “when I am married” mime scene). Colas jumps out from the wheat stacks having eavesdropped on Lise’s romantic dreams. Resentful at first, Lise is quick to forgive Colas and they exchange scarves as a token of their love. The sounds of heavy steps indicate widow Simone’s imminent return. Lise gets Colas to hide in her room and goes back to her chores. Simone now commands her to go upstairs and put on her wedding dress as Thomas and Alain are on their way. Lise is filled with terror but widow Simone forces Lise into her room and locks her in.
Thomas and Alain arrive with a notary. They sign the marriage contract and widow Simone gives Alain the key to Lise’s bedroom. There he discovers Lise in her wedding dress together with Colas. Angrily, Thomas and the notary leave while Lise and Colas beg widow Simone for forgiveness and to consider their betrothal. Love triumphs as widow Simone agrees and everyone celebrates. They all leave but just before the curtain closes we see Alain come back. He is looking for his most prized possession: his red umbrella.
Some Fun Facts
- Chickens have long been associated with productions of Fille and Petipa/Ivanov’s 1885 staging for the Imperial Ballet featured live chickens.
- Notations for the Imperial Ballet’s production of La Fille Mal Gardée, together with the piano reduction of Hertel’s score have survived intact as part of the Sergeyev Collection but they haven’t been used in any reconstruction so far.
- While the Royal Ballet’s production of Fille is traditionally staged in 2 acts, on tour this is expanded into 3 because of complicated changes in settings.
- Ashton took Lanchbery to a performance by Lancashire clog dancers so that he could find inspiration for writing his Clog Dance music.
- The pink ribbon Lise and Colas dance with has to be of very high quality and made of non slippery satin.
- Ashton’s Maypole dance has been reduced in length since the ballet’s first staging but no other scene has ever been altered.
How the Fille score developed and morphed over the years:
- At the time of Dauberval the position of ballet composer wasn’t very well respected, so the 1789 score was most likely derived from a committee where the 1st violinist put together assorted unoriginal tunes following instructions from the ballet master.
- In 1828 Jean-Pierre Aumer commissioned an improved score from Ferdinand Hérold, a former choir master. Hérold patched up themes from popular operas such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra, Paul Egidi Martini’s Le Droit du Seigneur and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.
- In 1864 Paul Taglioni commissioned a completely new score from the Königliches Opernhaus resident ballet composer Peter Ludwig Hertel. This version was also used by Petipa/Ivanov in 1885 along with additional music from Ludwig Minkus.
- Frederick Ashton and John Lanchbery found Hérold’s score at the POB library. There were no notes on the story and no music for the mime scenes or a Grand Pas de Deux so Lanchbery incorporated part of Hertel’s score from the St. Petersburg 1885 staging.
Ashton and Lanchbery collaborated for a period of 8 weeks, meeting at least 3 times a week to discuss matching action to music. Lanchbery would play a piece to Ashton and get his feedback (“cut and start the coda, rumpty, tum, tum!”). This helped Lanchbery compose interpolating passages to blend in Herold’s and Hertel’s music. He orchestrated the full score and also created character leitmotifs for Widow Simone, Colas and a “disaster” theme.
Your Fille Spotify/Ipod playlist should include the below tracks:
No 1. Introduction (from Overture of Martini’s Le Droit du Seigneur)
No.2. Dance of the Cock and Hens
No.3. Lise and the Ribbon – Pas De Ruban (from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville)
No. 10. Thomas and Alain
No. 13. Picnic.
No. 16. The Fanny Elssler Pas de Deux (from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore)
No. 17. Simone & Clog Dance (from Hertel’s 1864 score)
No. 19. Storm and Finale (from Rossini’s La Cenerentola)
No. 22. Spinning
No. 27. Thomas, Alain and the Notary.
No. 29. Pas de Deux (from Rossini’s Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra)
No. 30. Finale
Full information on Lanchbery’s 1960 score can be found in the La Fille Mal Gardée entry on Wikipedia [link]
- 2008 graduation performance of the Vaganova Academy: Yulia Tikka and Vasily Tkachenko in a Pas de Deux from the Taglioni/Petipa/Ivanov Fille [link]
- Fernando Bujones as Colas in a variation of ABT’s Dauberval based Fille [link]
- William Tuckett as Widow Simone in Ashton’s Fille [link]
- Marianela Nuñez as Lise and Carlos Acosta as Colas Act I Pas de Deux of Ashton’s Fille [link]
- Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta in the Wedding Pas de Deux [link]
- Artists of The Royal Ballet as Cockrel and Hens in Ashton’s Fille [link]
Le Ballet de la Paille
Original Choreography: Jean Dauberval
Original Premiere: Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, France. 1 July 1789.
Original Cast: Marie-Madeleine Crespé as Lison, Eugène Hus as Colin and Francois Le Riche as la Veuve Ragotte.
La Fille Mal Gardée
Original Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Original Music: Ferdinand Hérold (with themes from Peter Ludwig Hertel) arranged and adapted by John Lanchbery
Libretto: Jean Dauberval
Original Designs & Costumes: Sir Osbert Lancaster
Original Cast: Nadia Nerina as Lise, David Blair as Colas, Alexander Grant as Alain and Stanley Holden as Widow Simone.
Premiere: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 28 January 1960
Sources and Further Information
- My conception of La Fille Mal Gardée by Frederick Ashton. From The Dancing Times, London 1960, from The Royal Opera House Website. [link]
- La Fille mal Gardée by Jane Simpson. Ballet.co, from Ballet Contexts [link]
- Facts about Fille by Jane Simpson. Ballet.co, from Ballet Contexts [link]
- Ashton’s Archive by David Vaughan [link]
- Wikipedia entry for La Fille Mal Gardée [link]
- Interview with Alexander Grant by Jane Simpson. DanceView Magazine, Summer 2000. [link]
- Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to learning and loving the ballet by Robert Greskovic. Limelight Editions, 2005. ISBN-10: 0879103256
- La Fille Mal Gardée. Insight Evening led by Pauline Greene. 25 February, 2010
- ABT Notes on La Fille Mal Gardée [link]