#Throwback Thursday: La Fille Mal Gardee

Today's #ThrowbackThursday is on the French comedic ballet La Fille Mal Gardee.

Myriam Ould-Braham and Josua Hoffalt, Paris Opera Ballet

La Fille Mal Gardee, or 'The Wayward Daughter', is one of the oldest ballets still being performed today. It premiered in France in 1789, and tells the story of Lise, a village girl. Lise has fallen in love with Colas, but is being forced by the Widow Simone to marry the rich but rather dim Alain. The Widow Simone tries and fails to keep Lise and Colas apart. Whilst Lise and the Widow Simone are on a picnic with Alain and his father Thomas, there is a sudden thunderstorm which forces everyone to take shelter. Alain is blown away on the wind by his umbrella.

Sara Lamb and Martin Harvey, Royal Ballet

The Widow Simone and Lise return to the house, where the Widow makes an unhappy Lise spin at the spinning wheel and then dance for her entertainment. When the Widow falls asleep, Lise tries and fails to steal the house key from her pocket, so that she might prevent herself from being locked in. Meanwhile the farm workers are bringing in the harvest, and the Widow wakes and goes outside to join them, locking Lise in. Lise daydreams about Colas and mimes being the mother of a large number of children, only to become embarrassed when she is discovered by Colas himself. As the Widow returns to the house, Lise panics and hides Colas in her bedroom. The Widow tells Lise she must go to her room and dress for her wedding to Alain. Lise attempts to refuse, but the Widow pushes Lise into the room and locks the door.

The Widow Simone and clog-dancers, Royal Ballet

Alain, still clutching his umbrella, arrives with his father, a local notary, and the farm workers, who are friends of Lise and Colas. The Widow gives Alain the key to Lise's room, but when he opens the door he discovers Lise in her wedding dress accompanied by Colas. Furious, Thomas tears up the marriage contract and leads Alain from the house in a fury. Lise and Colas beg the Widow to allow them to marry, and she relents. As everyone joyfully leaves the house to celebrate, Alain creeps back in so that he too might be united with his true love - his umbrella.

Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae, Royal Ballet

La Fille Mal Gardee was the creation of choreographer Jean Dauberval. It is said that in 1789, Dauberval saw an engraving by Pierre-Antoine Baudouin in a Bordeaux print-shop. It was entitled 'Le reprimande' or 'Une jeune fille querellee par sa mere', and showed a young girl being reprimanded by an old woman as her lover fled. Apparently this work amused Dauberval so much he began to plan out a ballet based on the same scenario. The ballet premiered on 1 July 1789 at the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux in France, under the original title 'Le ballet de la paille, ou Il n'est qu'un pas du mal au bien' - 'The Ballet of the Straw, or There is Only One Step from Bad to Good'. Dauberval's wife Marie-Madeleine Crespe, better known as Madame Theodore, played Lise (originally called Lison), Eugene Hus played Colas (originally Colin), and Francois Le Riche played the Widow Simone (originally the Widow Ragotte).

'Le reprimande, ou une jeune fille querelle par sa mere', Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, 1789

In the manner of ballets at the time, the score for La Fille Mal Gardee was a patchwork of 55 popular French arias. There is no known original composer or arranger, though it is possible that this too was done by Dauberval (who was also an accomplished violinist). Two years after the premiere, Dauberval travelled to London to revive his ballet for the Ballet of the King's Pantheon Theatre. For this production he changed the name to 'La Fille Mal Gardee', and the ballet has been known by this ever since. The revival premiered on 30 April 1791, with Madame Theodore reprising her role as Lise alongside Charles Didelot as Colas. Eugene Hus, who had been the original Colas, staged his own production in 1803 at the Salle de la rue de Richelieu, the original predecessor of the Paris Opera.

Marianela Nunez and Carlos Acosta, Royal Ballet

Since then there have been a succession of different stagings and revivals. Jean-Pierre Aumer, Dauberval's student, used Hus' 1803 production to continuously rework and update the ballet throughout his posting as the Paris Opera's ballet master. Finally, in 1809, he went to Vienna where he staged the piece for the Ballett des imperialen Hoftheater nachst der Burg. Finally, on 17 November 1828, Aumer staged a brand new production for the Paris Opera in honour of the ballerina Pauline Montessu. Composer Ferdinand Herold adapted the original 1789 score for the occasion. An 1837 production of the same ballet for the ballerina Fanny Elssler saw the creation of a new pas de deux (as it was the custom at the time for a leading ballerina to commission new pieces for herself within an old ballet). Elssler chose as her music several arias from Gaetano Donizetti's popular opera L'elisir d'amore. This Grand pas was lost until ballet historian Ivor Guest reconstructed it for Sir Frederick Ashton in 1960.

Olga Preobrajenska, c. 1890

Choreographer Paul Taglioni staged an entirely new work in his capacity as ballet master to the Court Opera Ballet of the Konigliches Opernhaus in Berlin. It premiered on 7 November 1864 under the title 'Das schlecht bewachte Madchen' or 'The Badly Guarded Girl', to great success. It remained in the company's repertoire for many years; famous Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi made her debut in Taglioni's ballet in Berlin in 1876. La Fille Mal Gardee first appeared in Russia in 1800, in a staging by Giuseppe Solomoni as ballet master for Michael Maddox's Petrovsky Theatre (predecessor of the Bolshoi Theatre). His successor Jean Lamiral revived it in 1808. Other versions soon followed, including that of the 'father of Russian ballet', Charles Didelot, for the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet on 2 October 1818 (under the title La Precaution inutile, ou Lise et Colin - 'Vain Precaution, or Lise and Colin'); a restaging of Aumer's production by Irakly Nikitin for the Bolshoi Imperial Ballet in 1845; and that of Jules Perrot for the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet in 1854, based on Aumer's but with new music for Cesare Pugni. This production was given for the last time as the benefit performance of Pavel Gerdt in 1880.

Virginia Zucchi, 1885

In 1885, Tsar Alexander III requested that the ballerina Virginia Zucchi tour St. Petersburg. For her debut, Zucchi settled on Taglioni's 1864 version of La Fille Mal Gardee. This was duly staged by ballet master Marius Petipa and his assistant Lev Ivanov, with much input from Zucchi herself. Ludwig Minkus was commissioned to create two new variations specially for Zucchi. The ballet, under the title 'Vain Precaution', premiered on 28 December 1885, and was an instant success. Zucchini became a legend among Russian balletomanes. After Zucchi left, the role of Lise was danced by Alexandra Vinogradova (Mariinsky, 1888); Hedwige Hantenburg (1894); as well as Olga Preobrajenska, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, and Mathilde Kschessinskaya. For a long time, Kschessinskaya would not allow another ballerina to perform Lise; when Preobrajenska was given the role, Kschessinskaya let loose the live chickens which were kept in coops on stage, but Preobrajenska merely kept dancing as though nothing had happened. Like many ballets of the Russian Imperial period, La Fille Mal Gardee was almost lost after the Soviet revolution. The last performance of the ballet was on 10 October 1917, with Elsa Vill as Lise. Like many other ballets, the production survived because of Nicholas Sergeyev and his notation method. In 2015, Sergei Vikharev staged a production of the ballet using these original notations for the State Ballet of Ekaterinburg.

In 1903, Alexander Gorsky staged a particularly influential version of La Fille Mal Gardee. Based on the Petipa/Ivanov version, Gorsky added music by many other composers to the score. His version is the basis for almost every modern production since, and his Grand pas de deux, now known as the La Fille Mal Gardee pas de deux, is regularly performed by the Vaganova Academy, among others. In 1930, choreographers Asaf Messerer and Igor Moiseyev created a new version for the Bolshoi Ballet with an extra act depicting Lise and Colas' marriage, but this was replaced quickly by another revival in 1937. Choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky, this production survived in sporadic bursts until the 1970s. Unlike the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky has no existing production of the ballet. Its 1989 production by Oleg Vinogradov was pulled from the repertoire after his departure in 1995.

Above: Anna Pavlova and coryphees

The Russian version of La Fille Mal Gardee (that is, the Petipa/Ivanov version) first travelled to the West with Anna Pavlova in 1912. Following in her footsteps, Bronislava Nijinska staged her own production for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) in 1940. The production has been revived several times, most notably for Natalia Makarova in 1972, and was retained until 1984. The famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo staged their own production in 1942. Many South American and Caribbean companies base their productions off this, as former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo star Alicia Alonso brought the work with her to the Cuban Ballet.

Nadia Nerina and David Blair, Royal Ballet

The most famous modern production is deservedly Sir Frederick Ashton's. Created for the Royal Ballet, the entirely new production premiered in London on 28 January 1960, with Nadia Nerina as Lise, David Blair as Colas, Stanley Holden as the Widow Simone, and Alexander Grant as Alain. The work has become a classic, and one of the Royal Ballet's most beloved pieces of repertoire. The work has become the 'traditional' version, supplanting the more original Petipa/Ivanov 'Russian' production, and is danced by numerous companies throughout the world. In 1993, the Ballet du Rhin of Mulhouse, France, recreated the original 1789 production as thoroughly as possible.

Natalia Osipova as Lise, Royal Ballet

Here's La Fille Mal Gardee in its entirety, from a filmed 1989 production (possibly the Paris Opera Ballet):

- Selene

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