The Wayward Daughter – production staged by Frederick Ashton
La Fille mal gardée (English: The Wayward Daughter, literal translation: “The Poorly Guarded Girl” and also known as The Girl Who Needed Watching) is a comic ballet presented in two acts, inspired by Pierre-Antoine Baudouin’s 1789 painting, La réprimande/Une jeune fille querellée par sa mère. The ballet was originally choreographed by the Ballet Master Jean Dauberval to a pastiche of music based on fifty-five popular French airs. The ballet was premiered on 1 July 1789 at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France under the title Le ballet de la paille, ou Il n’est qu’un pas du mal au bien (The Ballet of Straw, or There is Only One Step from Bad to Good).
La Fille mal gardée is one of the oldest and most important works in the modern ballet repertory, having been kept alive throughout its long performance history by way of many revivals. The work has undergone many changes of title and has had no fewer than six scores, some of which were adaptations of older music.
Today La Fille mal gardée is normally presented in one of two different versions: many ballet companies feature productions which are derived from Alexander Gorsky’s version to the music of Peter Ludwig Hertel, originally staged for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1903. Gorsky’s version was almost entirely based on Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s 1885 staging for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The Petipa/Ivanov staging was itself based on Paul Taglioni’s version to the music of Peter Ludwig Hertel, originally staged in 1864 for the Court Opera Ballet of the Königliches Opernhaus in Berlin. Modern audiences are perhaps most familiar with the production staged by Frederick Ashton for the Royal Ballet in 1960.
The appealing simplicity and the naïve familiarity of the action of La Fille mal gardée have lent it a popularity that has established it in the repertory of many ballet companies all over the world.
Lise and Colas are in love and want to marry. However, the Widow Simone wants Lise to marry the dimwitted, but extremely rich, Alain, and has arranged (with Alain’s father Thomas) for a marriage contract between Lise and Alain. The Widow Simone does her best to keep Lise and Colas apart, but is unsuccessful in her attempts to do so.
At harvest time the Widow Simone and Lise are taken to the field for a picnic lunch by Thomas and Alain. The farm workers join in a ribbon dance around a maypole, and the girls also join in a clog dance with the Widow Simone. There is a thunderstorm and everyone rushes for shelter. Alain is carried away on the wind by his open umbrella.
The Widow Simone and Lise return to their home. The widow wants Lise to sit down at the spinning wheel and spin, but Lise spins while she is up dancing, nearly strangling the widow. After a while, the widow wants Lise to dance, and Lise shows signs of unhappiness, but obliges. The widow takes a tambourine to play in time with Lise’s dancing. When the widow is asleep, Lise tries to steal the key from the widow’s pocket, to prevent the widow from locking her in, but is unsuccessful. The crops are brought in by the farm workers, and the widow then leaves the house (after locking the door behind her to prevent Lise from leaving the house). Lise thinks about Colas and mimes being the mother of a large number of children. To her embarrassment, Colas suddenly rises from the stacked crops. At the sound of the Widow Simone’s returning to the house, Lise and Colas look around desperately for a place where he can hide. Not finding anywhere suitable in the living room, Lise takes Colas to her room, and she returns to the living room just before Widow Simone enters the house. The Widow Simone orders Lise to go to her room and put on her wedding dress for her forthcoming marriage to Alain. The horrified Lise tries to remain where she is, but the Widow Simone pushes Lise into her room and locks the door.
Thomas arrives with his son Alain (who is still clutching his umbrella). They are accompanied by a notary who is to act as witness to the marriage. The farm workers (friends of both Lise and Colas) also arrive. The Widow Simone gives Alain the key to Lise’s room. When Alain unlocks the door to Lise’s room, Lise appears in her wedding dress, accompanied by Colas. Thomas and Alain take offence, and the enraged Thomas tears up the marriage contract. Thomas, Alain and the notary leave the house in dudgeon. Lise and Colas then beg the Widow Simone to look favourably upon their suit. Love conquers all and the widow relents. Joyfully celebrating the happy outcome for Lise and Colas, everyone leaves, and the house is left quiet and empty, until Alain returns for his umbrella which he had accidentally left behind. So Alain is also happy with the love of his life – his umbrella.