It might not seem it with recent weather but summer has arrived, particularly upon the stage of Birmingham Hippodrome this week as Birmingham Royal Ballet present La Fille mal gardée, the oldest ballet in existence, having premiered in 1789. Despite the French title and principal names, there can be no more English a ballet as the picturesque countryside of late spring blossoms into summer in choreographer Frederick Ashton's idea of splendid Suffolk.
When country beauty Lise falls in love with farm lad Colas, she’s about to upset the apple cart. Her mother, Widow Simone, has her own ideas about who her daughter should marry. Enter Thomas, a pompous and wealthy vineyard owner. And Alain, his rich son – attractive as a potato, smart as a turnip and the proud possessor of two left feet. It's like a summer pantomime of the ballet world, a lighthearted tale with predictably hilarious results.
Michael O'Hare is rich farmer Widow Simone, the 'dame' is at the heart of the piece, plays for laughs as the dame would do but delights with an impressive clog dance. The widow's daughter Lise is danced impeccably by Nao Sakuma, who after joining the company in 1995 was promoted to principal in 2002 and her experience shows. It is most difficult to turn attention from her to other delightful distractions such as a brood of chickens.
The colourful production is perhaps at it's best when all artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet dance as one. At one point there is an impressive dance around a maypole and a cute flute dance lead by Lewis Turner who always manages to light the stage with a charming smile. Equally as a charming is César Morales who is a strong lead as Colas.
An exciting edition to the cast is a beautiful Shetland Pony who appears one more than one occasion, provoking prolonged bouts of "awww"s.