La Fille mal gardée

Description

Nadia Potts in La Fille mal gardée (1976).  Photo by Andrew Oxenham.

 

Our History

 

Ottawa Citizen Article (June 5, 1976). Large.  The National Ballet of Canada premiered La Fille mal gardée on November 17, 1976 as a part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. The production featured Karen Kain as Lise, Frank Augustyn as Colas, David Roxander as Alain, Jacques Gorrissen as Widow Simone and Charles Kirby as Thomas.

It was a time of flux for the company as newly appointed Artistic Director Alexander Grant had only recently taken over. Grant was both an inspiration and confidant to choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton who had created many roles specifically for him including Alain in La Fille mal gardée. Under Grant’s tenure as Artistic Director a number of Ashton ballets were added to the National Ballet’s repertoire including Montones II, The Dream, Les Patineurs and The Two Pigeons. 

Ottawa Citizen article (June 5, 1976). 

Read the article 

 Compilation of the set designs for La Fille mal gardée by Osbert Lancaster (1960). Large.   

 

Sir Frederick Ashton commissioned close friend and colleague Osbert Lancaster to create the set and costume designs for La Fille mal gardée, insisting that they avoid “any whiff of rural verismo”. Lancaster used monotone pastel colours and grandiose rural architecture inspired by the illustrations of Boutet de Monvel in Images d’Epinal. The illustrations, much like the set designs, use bold color creating a clarity and vivacity that emulates pastoral life. Lancaster is also acclaimed for his design of John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll which entered The National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire in 1959.

Compilation of the set designs for La Fille mal gardée by Osbert Lancaster (1960). 
 Princess the pony with Charles Kirby, Karen Kain and Jacques Gorrissen in La Fille mal gardée (1976). Photo by Barry Gray. Small. 

 

 

La Fille mal gardée is unusual in its use of a live pony appearing near the end of Act I. The pony used by The National Ballet of Canada during the premiere season was named Princess and became a beloved pet to the cast and crew. Only three other productions in the National Ballet’s repertoire incorporate live animals - August Bournonville’s Napoli, George Balanchine’s Don Quixote and Ashton’s own Two Pigeons. 

Princess the pony with Charles Kirby, Karen Kain and Jacques Gorrissen in La Fille mal gardée (1976).   

 New York Post Article (July 15, 1977). Large.    

In the summer of 1977 The National Ballet of Canada performed for the first time in New York City without the support of Guest Artist Rudolf Nureyev. The tour proved to be a wild success and garnered international recognition for the company.

During a performance of La Fille mal gardée at the Metropolitan Opera House on July 13, 1977 featuring Vanessa Harwood as Lise and American Ballet Theatre Guest Artist Fernando Bujones as Colas, there was a sudden blackout at the beginning of Act II. The remainder of the ballet was unfortunately cancelled and the audience had to be unceremoniously herded out of the theatre.

New York Post article (July 15, 1977). 

Read the article 

 Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn in the CBC Filming of La Fille mal gardée (ca. 1978). Photo by Christopher Darling. Large. 

 

Following the success of La Fille mal gardée it was taped for CBC television by Emmy Award winning director Norman Campbell. The cast included Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn, Jacques Gorrissen and David Roxander as Lise, Colas, Widow Simone and Alain respectively. The film premiered on January 3, 1979 and had a viewership of more than 1.2 million, a record number for a CBC Musicamera production.

Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn in the CBC Filming of La Fille mal gardée  (1979).  
 Nadia Potts during the curtain call for her farewell performance in La Fille mal gardée (March 1, 1986). Small. 

 

Following 19 years of performance with The National Ballet of Canada, Principal Dancer Nadia Potts gave her farewell performance as Lise in La Fille mal gardée on March 1, 1986. After her retirement from the stage, Ms. Potts went on to become a teacher and author and has been a Professor and Program Director of the Dance Programme at Ryerson University since 1989.

Nadia Potts during the curtain call for her farewell performance in La Fille mal gardée (March 1, 1986).  

 

Your Stories

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"La Fille mal gardée was the first ballet, so beautifully danced by Frank Augustyn and Karen Kain, that I introduced to my then-boyfriend. Ballet was one of my favourite interests. He introduced me to baseball. We've been happily married for 30 years with 7 children and in that time he's been to many ballets... and I've never been to another baseball game!"

- Billie Ferrell Harrigan, Audience Member, 25+ years 

"Early on in my career as the Wardrobe Assistant for The National Ballet of Canada I spent my days in the basement of old St Lawrence Hall on King Street doing fittings, mending and altering costumes and doing loads of laundry. It was not yet my job to work backstage. I vividly remember attending a performance of La Fille mal gardée in the 1980’s with Widow Simone being danced by Principal Character Artist Jacques Gorrissen. As the Widow reached into the drawer on stage left to get her hanky she used her hip to quickly shut the drawer, but her hem got caught in the drawer too. Unfortunately, the ruffled hem ripped away from the dress as she began to move to stage right. As soon as she felt the tug - half way across the stage - she turned, assessed the situation and quickly retraced her steps, bundling the torn ruffle hem. When she got back to the drawer she opened it, easily tore off the ruffle from the dress, threw it in the drawer and again closed it with her hip… Ta da!!
All I could think was, “Well, I guess I know what I’m mending tomorrow!”"

- Ms. Barbara de Kat, Wardrobe Coordinator, 1985 to present 

“In 1976, at 17, I bought tickets for my sister and I to see La Fille mal gardée. On the night of the ballet, my sister was ill and couldn’t attend. My father, seeing my disappointment at going alone, accompanied me! We were astonished and thrilled!”

- Susan, Audience Member, 30+ years 

“My favourite memory of The National Ballet of Canada was when Karen Kain danced Lise in La Fille mal gardée. I was so impressed that she conveyed the youth and innocence of the role through amazing acting and dancing.”

- Josy, Audience Member, 30+ years  

“One of the ballets I love the most is Sir Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, in which I played Lise, a mischievous country girl with an undertone of sweetness, and Frank (Augustyn) as her lover, Colas, full of country-bumpkin swagger and exuberance. Ashton coached us in this ballet in 1976, and although it had been created sixteen years earlier, I always felt it had really been made for us. We just hadn’t been around at the time. With a plot full of minor spats that are overcome by good humour and love, that gem of a ballet conveys more joy to the audience than almost any other I could name, and what Frank and I did on-stage reflected exactly how we felt about each other. We didn’t have to think about acting or try to be cute; we just regressed to our mid-teens and were ourselves.”

 - Karen Kain, Artistic Director, from Movement Never Lies: An Autobiography (1994)

“Alexander Grant, as a close friend of Sir Frederick Ashton, had access to some of the greatest choreographic works of the twentieth century. One of the pieces he brought in for us was one of my all-time favourite ballets, Sir Fred’s La Fille mal gardée. I had seen the first-act pas de deux at the Moscow competition, but I had never seen the whole ballet. It was like reading a great script. Fun, difficult, but so brilliant: and when you are working on anything brilliant you automatically rise to the occasion. There is such a will to master it well and do justice to it.

It was also a work that was almost perfect for Karen and myself at that stage in our careers. To do it well, you have to be young in spirit and have good comedic timing. It is almost impossible to destroy this ballet in performance, it is so well constructed, but to do it really well, you need these things, along with a pretty strong technique and a temperament that is not phased by lots of business with props. We both really enjoyed the ballet – we had the same sense of humour, and we could really show off how good our comedic timing was. It showed another side of us.

For me, Fille was every bit the accomplishment that any of the great dramas were. There was a different kind of satisfaction to it – which was none the less real or intense. It’s a great ballet, so full of character and humanity. That was Ashton’s great strength – his humanity. He loved people and he loved to be able to tell stories.”

- Frank Augustyn, Alumni, Principal Dancer 1970-1990, from Dancing from the Heart: A Memoir (2000)

Books 

Frederick Ashton 
By: Cristina Franchi. Theatre Communications Group, 2005.
The year 2004 marked the centenary of the birth of Frederick Ashton, founder-choreographer of The Royal Ballet, whose work defined the English style of ballet. Ashton’s career as a dancer, choreographer and director spans the company’s history from its earliest days.

Secret muses: the life of Frederick Ashton 
By: Julie Kavanagh. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.
Frederick Ashton, one of the greatest choreographers in the history of dance, forever changed the landscape of English ballet, defining what we now know as the English classical style. Julie Kavanagh is the first person to have been given complete access to Ashton's papers, and with Secret muses she has written a brilliant account of his life and work, from his colorful childhood in Lima to his prolific career as a dancer and choreographer, first with the Ballet Rambert and then as Resident Choreographer of the Vic-Wells Ballet (later known as the Royal Ballet), the company that Ashton directed from 1963 to 1970.

Videos 

La Fille mal gardée 

By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC Television production, 1979.

The National Ballet of Canada's production of the comic ballet based on the original stage production by Sir Frederick Ashton. Set in a peasant village in the French countryside, La Fille mal gardée is a delightful tale of the difficult path of young love. Widow Simone is determined to betroth her willful daughter Lise to the eccentric son of a rich farmer, but Lise and her love Colas conspire to thwart the widow's plans.

More 

Frederick Ashton Archive
Website of the Frederick Ashton Archive.