CULTURE

National in much-changed ballet

Seated in a corner at the National Opera studio on Pireos Street, so as not to disturb the dancers, I am watching the rehearsals of the company’s new production. Featuring the music of Ferdinand Herold, adapted by John Lanchbery and choreographed by the great Frederick Ashton, «La Fille mal gardee» is being staged for the first time in Greece in its complete form. It is an inspiration and a great challenge for the National Opera dancers to face the genius and sensitivity of a ballet that had been described at its 1960 London premiere as the «first great English classic.» Irek Mukhamedov, artistic director of the National Opera Ballet, dressed in a simple track suit and a loose top, offers his advice to the two principal dancers who, on that day, were Stavroula Kambouraki as Lise and Alexander Neskov as Colas. Ashton had truly challenged his dancers to transcend themselves. Neskov tries again and again the same step that has been troubling him, while outside, in the corridor, the rest of the dancers wait for the corps de ballet rehearsals in the main hall. «It is such a fun work, but also a struggle,» Mukhamedov tells me. In its initial form, to a musical pastiche adapted by an unknown composer and choreographed by Jean Dauberval, «La Fille mal gardee» premiered in Bordeaux in 1789, just two weeks before the fall of the Bastille. There have been many revivals of the ballet, the most important ones in Paris in 1828 (with a new music score by Herold) as well as in St Petersburg in 1885, with the music of Peter Ludwig Hertel and the choreography of Marius Petipa. Anna Pavlova also had her own version, but by 1960 it seemed so old-fashioned that Ashton’s decision to revive the ballet caused great surprise and was met with skepticism. It was in this production that Ashton first worked with dancers famous for their powerful techniques and he made the best use of them. In 1960, people said the ballet’s only problem would be that nobody would be able to dance it again. Fortunately, 40 years of performances have proved just the opposite. «La Fille mal gardee» is a ballet that makes audiences happy, no matter how many times you watch it and it is a pity that it has become a sort of rarity in the past few years, though fortunately quite a few revivals have started abroad. The plot is a basic love story: A boy meets a girl, problems arise but everything works out in the end. There are people who dislike this ballet because they find its story line too simple, but there is the counter-argument that a comedy can be a masterpiece by itself and that Ashton’s choreography alone is a great piece of work. Apart from its famous pieces, such as the «Clog Dance» and the «Picnic» pas de deux, the ballet is full of Ashtonian touches such as the end of the second act and the unexpected duet in the same act. Famous ballerinas who have played Lise include Nadia Nerina, Ann Jenner, Doreen Wells, Lesley Collier and Sandra Madgwick and more recently Sarah Wildor, Belinda Hatley and Nao Sakuma. Following the first Colas performed by David Blair, other well-known Royal Ballet guest dancers including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Fernando Bujones have played the part. Recently, Carlos Acosta, Robert Parker and Chi Cao have also assumed the role. The Greek National Opera production features alternating dancers Evridiki Isaakidou, Natassa Siouta, Stavroula Kambouraki and Alina Stergianou as Lise, as well as Alexander Neskov and Danilo Zeka as Colas. Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias, tel 210.361.2461. Performances run to Sunday.