Considering its French title, Sir Frederick Ashton’s ballet La Fille mal gardée is quintessentially English. It is an affectionate depiction of his beloved Suffolk, all maypoles, butter churns and sudden downpours. Like much of Ashton’s work, the choreography is rarely showy, rather a pastoral study of lyrical grace, laced with intricate footwork. Ushering in a run of eleven performances by the Royal Ballet, Laura Morera and Vadim Muntagirov brought the bright spring sunshine from outside to flood the auditorium in delightfully sunny performances.

Vadim Muntagirov (Colas) and Laura Morera (Lise) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Vadim Muntagirov (Colas) and Laura Morera (Lise)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH

La Fille is a simple tale of village folk. Lise loves the handsome young farmer Colas, against her mother’s wishes. The widow Simone has more ambitious plans to marry Lise off to Alain, the gauche son of a wealthy vineyard owner. Needless to say, the young lovers eventually manage to outwit Simone, the marriage contract to Alain is ripped up and all live happily ever after. In Ashton’s choreography, everybody is given the opportunity to charm and on opening night, the cast duly delivered.

With a knowing smile, Laura Morera’s Lise was the perfect flirt, always trying to find a way to evade her mother’s protective grasp. Full of joie de vivre, her opening ribbon dance immediately established her coquettish character. Vadim Muntagirov, making his role debut as Colas, was elegant; without the cocky assurance of some, but this made his portrayal more touching. His développés and battements amazed, his limbs supple and fluid, and his fast à la seconde turns were neatly controlled.

Laura Morera (Lise) and Vadim Muntagirov (Colas) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Laura Morera (Lise) and Vadim Muntagirov (Colas)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH

But in duet, it was Morera’s delicious Lise who held the upper hand; teasing her beau in the pas de ruban, she could have tied him in knots. Her surprised expression when Colas finally outfoxes Lise, suddenly leaping from the harvest sheaves, was a joy. The Fanny Elssler pas, where Lise’s ribbon-bearing friends have her turning in attitude as a human maypole, was tenderly performed.

Ashton ensures that the character of the befreckled Alain is also sympathetically drawn – clumsy in his eagerness, but ultimately endearing, like a balletic cousin to Britten’s Albert Herring (who also hails from Suffolk). Paul Kay played him to perfection, gawky in his tuba-accompanied solo, but also expressing huge delight, springing astride his red umbrella, which he recovers in the ballet’s final Rosenkavalier-like cameo. He may have lost the girl, but Kay won many hearts.

Vadim Muntagirov (Colas), Laura Morera (Lise) and Paul Kay (Alain) © Tristram Kenton | ROH
Vadim Muntagirov (Colas), Laura Morera (Lise) and Paul Kay (Alain)
© Tristram Kenton | ROH

It was a delight to see Will Tuckett return to the role of Simone, protective and cranky, applying just the right amount of camp humour to his characterization, mixed with real tenderness. Tuckett is the master of comic timing: Simone, is given the ballet’s most famous number – the Clog Dance – and he carries it off hilariously. Gary Avis blustered well as the pompous Thomas, Alain’s father. The corps, as villagers and harvesters, did not always provide the necessary country swagger and vigour, but the comedy hens clucked and strutted and Peregrine, the pony who draws the cart to the fields, behaved impeccably.

More used to penning opera reviews, La Fille certainly made me feel at home. Indeed, giant haystacks and Donizetti have already combined at the ROH this season, in Laurent Pelly’s witty take on L’elisir d’amore. John Lanchbery’s score, based on Ferdinand Hérold, borrows from the same opera for the charming Fanny Elssler pas de deux. It also raids Rossini – the storm sequence from La Cenerentola and the opening to Il barbiere di Siviglia (which has also already featured during this season). Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Opera Orchestra gave a spirited account of the score, full of wit, nowhere more so than the cheeky clarinet solo to accompany the Clog Dance.

La Fille is a feel-good, springtime ballet. Morera, Muntagirov and the entire cast ensure that this Royal Ballet revival delivers in spades.