Last night I saw Stella Abrera's debut performance in Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee.
This ballet is very sweet and succinct. It only depicts one day in a farming community with one young teen couple in love. The worst that happens is getting caught in a rainstorm. No mad scenes in this ballet.
The most popular element of the ballet that everyone talks about, despite the fact that they are hardly on stage for long, are the dancing chickens. One male dancer backed with 4 female dancers all dressed in full chicken costumes have two dances. The choreography isn't earth shattering but the presentation is the key. It is so wonderfully goofy and lighthearted.
Below is a clip from the Bavarian State Ballet, whose chicken costumes are a lot fancier than ABTs.
Abrera was a lovely Lise with gentle footwork and graceful epaulement. At times, I felt that the ballet was not challenging her enough except in certain set scenes. She is capable of much more and hopefully she will be cast in weightier ballets that will show her full worth (Swan Lake!). Her partner was James Whiteside who I haven't been enthusiastic about beforehand. He seems colorless despite impressive technique. His tallness and long lines look beautiful almost too perfect. But he was quite different last night. He was present and enthusiastic. I think he genuinely likes Abrera and was intent on helping her debut look great. I think I liked him the most when he went full out and wild into a serious of pirouettes that ended in a bit of a stumble.
Besides the chickens the next characters that were audience favorites were Widow Simone (Marcelo Gomes), Thomas (Thomas Forster) and Alain (Arron Scott). I already knew Gomes would be perfect and he was. I loved his slapstick clog dance. But I was truly surprised at how much Thomas Forster's acting improved. When I saw him in Giselle as Hilarion, he was a bit too self conscious. But perhaps the make up and costume in this ballet gave him security. He was very funny as a pompous, controlling rich Papa who wanted his son to marry Lise. He was also just as tall as Gomes, so they were well matched. I think my new favorite dancer and who I'll be watching in the future is
Arron Scott. He was so great as Alain the awkward son trying to woo Lise. He was also a natural at the physical comedy the role required.
The Corps was well rehearsed and enthusiastic. There seems to be a lot of new faces but no one stood out to me. I was very happy that clomping toe shoe problem seems to have abated. I was disappointed not to see Courtney Lavine in the crowd. I did however see and was impressed by Stephanie Williams who had a bit part as one of Lise's friends. She has wonderful technique and is quickly developing a personal style. The other two dancers that I liked were Alexandra Basmagy and Mai Aihara.
As I've noted last year, this ballet company enjoys Ashton ballets and dances them well. Perhaps more should be licensed and added to ABT's repertoire.