Boston Ballet’s second production of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée (the first was in 2003) made it clearer than ever what a fractured fairy tale this is. The pastoral scrim that’s revealed when the curtain goes up sports a surly Demeter bearing a sheaf of grain and bare breasts — no danger of her being badly watched. Meanwhile, the orchestra’s opening fanfare dissolves almost immediately into bucolic rusticity, bird song, and cock crowing. And when said cock then appears with four hens, you might well wonder whether the romantic model is Romeo and Juliet or the new HBO series Big Love .
So it’s hardly a surprise that Ashton’s antagonist threatens to steal the show. Thomas’s doltish son, Alain, may not catch Lise’s eye the way handsome Colas does, but executing equestrian heroics while mounted on his trusty red umbrella (now there’s a romantic model), or smooth-stepping like Fred Astaire with a Danny Kaye body transplant, he’s sure to catch the audience’s. Chris Budzynski last Saturday afternoon was poised between clown and Cyrano, in love with his umbrella one moment, with Lise the next, Jerry Lewis–like in his appeal to the audience and in his flashes of intelligence and maturity, as when he tugged at his velvet breeches and threw an “Aw, Dad” look at his father. Neither as sweet as Joel Prouty Thursday night nor as dark as Jared Redick on Friday, he brought a hint of romantic lead to the role.
Colas, like many of ballet’s romantic leads, is a generic personality, and Roman Rykine, who had the role Saturday afternoon, didn’t compensate with much bravura, any more than Nelson Madrigal and Reyneris Reyes had the previous two evenings. Rykine started well with some actual 720-degree double tours, but in his variations he failed to complete some moves and omitted others. All three dancers were boyish and attentive, and Reyes had a receptive Lise in Misa Kuranaga, especially on Sunday afternoon. Boston Ballet audiences drawn to the company in the 1990s by the likes of Patrick Armand, Rob Wallace, and Paul Thrussell might expect more, however.
The Lises were more gratifying, even with principals Larissa Ponomarenko and Romi Beppu out injured. Dancing with Rykine Saturday afternoon, Rie Ichikawa justified her first big role outside of Sugar Plum in The Nutcracker ; she can be tight-faced, but she wasn’t here, and if she didn’t have Feijóo’s flickering footwork or Kuranaga’s pouty porcelain detail, her Maypole-on-pointe was rock-solid, and in the third act she was deadpan doll-like when Simone wakes up and almost catches her with Colas. Six performances of La Fille are hardly enough to cast everyone you might want to see. Joel Prouty played the rooster as well as Alain; Christopher Budzynski did those two and also Simone (in which role Sunday afternoon he had deal with an on-stage mishap involving the hem of his skirt). Neither has been considered leading-man material, but both have the chops. Kathleen Breen Combes has a huge smile and energy to match; I wonder what her Lise would have been like. Mindaugas Bauzys, tall and craggy-faced and funny (he was the self-absorbed rock-star Hortensio in the company’s 2004 Taming of the Shrew), could have played almost anyone. It would, however, be hard to improve on Arthur Leeth’s overbearing yet patient Thomas; when during the curtain call Sunday afternoon he gave his jilted son (Redick still wearing a look of indescribable disappointment) one last hug, it was as good as reality gets.