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La Fille mal gardée in Budapest

Posted on December 23, 2010

A new acquisition for the Hungarian National Ballet, A Rosszul őrzött lány secured a rousing reception on its first night – Frederick Ashton’s delightfully sunny La Fille mal gardée has gone Magyar. The ballet was danced with aplomb, and Alexander Grant, the work’s custodian and the original Alain in 1960, was there to oversee final rehearsals.

Visually, all was more or less well – a few tweaks apparent here and there, making Osbert Lancaster’s cartoon-like frontcloths somewhat less so, but charming local touches, such as the bunch of Hungarian paprika chillies hanging alongside the hams and onions from Widow Simone’s farmhouse rafters, have been added. Costumes, too, were faithfully reproduced – all the requisite smocks and frocks were there, even if the colour palette chosen differs slightly from that in UK productions, and Colas now dances the cornfield scene in a burgundy waistcoat. The chickens and cockerel have had a wholly unsuccessful makeover (should we really see the latter’s buttocks?) but elsewhere all was familiar. Grant has played around with the stage lighting, taking his dimming of the lights to greater extremes: the opening scene begins in almost total darkness (as strong an argument for Daylight Saving Time as I can think of) and the lights go up and down with tiresome frequency in the final scene. Not good.

The company is by no means world-class, but careful coaching and wholehearted engagement count for much, and the corps de ballet was well-drilled and willing to bend and twist. The tendency to believe that “more is less” however, crept through, leading to a grotesquely danced cockerel (a prime contender for the local delicacy of rooster testicle stew), more turkey than chicken, and the cornfield flautist, who, despite tight feet in entrechat, could not resist the temptation to dance “big”.

But to the four principals. Kerényi Miklós Dávid’s Alain, taller than we are used to (but this is a tall company) captured much of the character – an idiot with pathos, both his acting and dancing clear, effective and funny. Komarov Alekszander’s Widow Simone was nothing short of a triumph. Very much in the William Tuckett mould of the gangly, good-hearted widow, he nonetheless made the role his own, re-minting familiar choreography, not least in an hysterically funny Clog Dance, dutifully reprised. This widow won our hearts and clearly adores her wayward and exasperating daughter. Alas, a gaping hole stood where Colas should have been: Oláh Zoltán was pallid and bland, fundamentally uninterested in his Lise, incapable of acting the part and clearly stretched by the choreography. He insisted on dancing the role as a ballet Prince, rather than the boy-next-door envisaged by Ashton. Fortunately, Pap Adrienn’s Lise amply made up for his failings: understandably nervous in the first scene, yet already mistress of the ribbons, she warmed visibly in the cornfield “Fanny Elssler” pas de deux, although here the absence of the British style of disguising preparation was most apparent. She acted throughout with real flair, a sparky, spunky country girl who, by Act II, had relaxed sufficiently to ally the dramatic with greater use of Ashtonian épaulement and musicality. Petite and well-proportioned, she is a fine Lise who, with subsequent performances, promises to become even more than that.

Sadly, the performance overall was dragged down by an orchestra distinctly “mal gardé”, a decidedly wayward band who were poorly controlled by Szennai Kálmán’s ineffectual baton: tempi sagged and several key choreographic moments had to wait for their music.

Despite this, La Fille mal gardée is a major and successful acquisition for the company, who will settle further into the felicities of this stunning ballet. Ashton’s works are not much seen internationally any more, but for the moment, A Rosszul őrzött lány is alive and well and living in Budapest.


Gerald Dowler

Gerald Dowler writes for the Financial Times, Ballet 2000 and several dance publications and websites. His articles have included appreciations of both Bronislava Nijinska and Antony Tudor and he has interviewed extensively for Dancing Times. He teaches at the City of London School.

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