Last week, Ballet in Cinema asked Royal Ballet’s Principal Character Artist and Ballet Master Gary Avis about his experience in dancing Ashton’s delightful ballet La Fille Mal Gardée, which was screened in cinemas all over the world. In this production, Gary performed the role of father Thomas to Alain, who planned to marry Lise, the village beauty. Gary has danced many principal roles with The Royal Ballet in well over 100 ballet productions. Lauded by critics, Gary has been described as one of the greatest dance actors in the history of The Royal Ballet. His most celebrated roles include Drosselmeyer – The Nutcracker, Tybalt – Romeo and Juliet, Ugly Sisters – Cinderella, Monsieur GM and The Gaolor – Manon, Von Rothbart – Swan Lake, Orion – Sylvia and The Immortal Kostcheï – Firebird, many of which have been featured in Ballet in Cinema broadcasts. Gary has been an audience favorite with Ballet in Cinema screenings and we were pleased to connect with him recently to answer these questions. Catch him in tomorrow night’s encore of La Fille Mal Gardée!
Ballet in Cinema (BiC): What aspects do you enjoy most in dancing in La Fille Mal Gardée?
Gary Avis (GA): With La Fille Mal Gardée, I appreciate that no two performances are ever the same. The choreography, music, sets and costumes obviously stay the same, but the character interpretations from each cast I’ve performed with have been enlightening and joyful. Each dancer who encapsulates the roles of Lise, Colas, Widow Simone, Farmer Thomas and many more, bring a fresh and updated approach to the story and breathe life into the incredible choreography and staging that Sir Fred so brilliantly gave us.
I particularly like getting ready for the role because with these wonderfully detailed and cartoonish designs by Osbert Lancester it’s a pleasure to bring his characters to life! The other thing I love about watching the ballet come together in rehearsal is observing and learning how clever and witty Ashton was with his choreography. I discover something new every time we revive it!
BiC: What makes this production such an important part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire?
GA: There are many reasons why La Fille Mal Gardée is special to the Royal Ballet repertoire. Having been created and choreographed during 1959/60 the ballet still stands with its head held high, among today’s modern and contrasting repertoire. The challenges presented to the dancers back in the beginning, still face the dancers today and push them to their limits to produce the choreography as Ashton would have wanted it then.
Full of wit and charm this ballet has been a classic favorite within the repertoire for more than 50 years and it still continues to give audiences the world over enormous pleasure, who could ever tire of the Clog, Ribbon and Stick dances and be overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of the Fanny Elssler pas de deux and the cleverness of the Maypole weaving. We have much to thank Sir Fred for and I think that every time the company has a revival, the quality of detail and style is passed on and nurtured to the next generation to understand.
BiC: How do you characterize the style of Frederick Ashton in this ballet?
GA: The Ashton style is characterized in this ballet by, the bending of the body (from the waist mainly) in any direction to help generate the next movement, the weight and gravitas of the many chassés throughout the ballet, the musicality and use of rhythm which rings out like a signature tune to all Ashton fans, because every note, nuance and step has meaning and reason. To me Ashton = Genius, Joy, Fun but above all, Challenge!
Thank you Gary Avis and the Royal Ballet! To all fans, don’t forget to check our site Ballet in Cinema to see where this beautiful ballet is playing in a theater near you!