This is a joyous ballet, superbly performed by the touring Australian Ballet. All components of the production come together magnificently to provide a cheerful night, full of fine dancing and comical situations.
Frederick Ashton’s choreography of the neglected French classic is as appropriate as at the time of his revival of the work at Covent Garden 44 years ago, as is the quirky design of Osbert Lancaster, whose cartoon-like representations of country life make wonderful backdrops.
Several members of the Company and guest artists have danced the principal roles during the current AB season. On this night artistic director David McAllister led his troupe from the front as the Widow Simone. He danced with gusto and a marvellous sense of pantomime, with his many memorable moments including the clog dance.
Campbell McKenzie and Rachel Rawlins, as the loving couple Colas and Lise, danced their roles with grace and a special charm. Rawlins exuded the quiet attractiveness of the innocent country girl as she set about her chores in the midst of the distractions of her admirer and the vigilance of her suspicious mother. McKenzie was an attentive and manly admirer, whose talents extended to some impressive lifting in the second half.
Matthew Donnelly was a very comic foppish Alain, cleverly stumbling about and more besotted by his red umbrella than his supposed fiancee, while Angus Woodyard as his father added decades to his age and was suitably paternal and unyielding. The corps’ Che McMahon’s as Notary added to the humour.
The many colorful aspects of the production, including a bevy of hens (Catherine Eddy, Sarah-Jane Fedrick, Anna Raetz and Leanne Stojmenov) and their accompanying rooster (Remi Wortmeyer), and a real pony pulling a trap, delighted the audience, particularly the large number of children. Choreographically very clever and very well executed is the modelling of the pony and trap by pursuing dancers. Lise’s friends were danced with continuous skill and grace by Gaylene Cummerfield, Jane Casson, Andrea Parkyn, Renee Wright, Camilla Vergotis, Juliet Burnett, Natalie Hill and Lana Jones, who do remarkable things with ribbons, including formation of a human maypole. Various Australian Ballet dancers deployed as villagers, harvesters and grooms all contributed to the general merriment.
Simon Hewett brought out the best from the Queensland Orchestra in their exuberant playing of Ferdinand Herold’s music as arranged by John Lanchbery. The music is full of surprises and subtleties, including many cheeky borrowings from other composers’ work including popular opera melodies.