FABLED ‘FILLE’ : Ballet Pacifica Stages the Dance That Dared to Tell a Story


Two weeks before the French stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and launched their political revolution, “La Fille mal gardee” began a revolution of its own in the ballet world.

Until then, ballets often had been mere strings of formal dances hung upon a plot line, usually about gods and goddesses in disguise or make-believe shepherds and shepherdesses.

But with “Fille” (The Badly Guarded Daughter), ballet began to tell a definite story, with every dance flowing directly out of a situation and advancing the plot. And the characters became real people, farmers and peasants. Well, reasonably real people.

The plot concerns the efforts of the lovers, Lise and Colas, to thwart the efforts of Lise’s mother (Widow Simone) to marry her off to someone she doesn’t love. The ballet combines comedy, pantomime, farce, as well as lyrical and virtuoso dancing.


Choreographer Jean Dauberval apparently found inspiration for his ballet in a colored print he saw one day in a shop window, of a youth fleeing from a cottage, an angry old woman throwing his hat after him and a peasant girl crying.

(Such a print was actually found a century later in the Paris National Library by the British ballet historian and critic Cyril Beaumont.)

The Dauberval version--which premiered under a different title--was originally danced to popular French folk songs and tunes. But when the ballet arrived at the Paris Opera in 1828, a new score for it was composed by Ferdinand Herold. Unencumbered by copyright laws, incidentally, Herold lifted themes from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” and “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” but also wrote much delightful music of his own.

When the ballet made it to Berlin in 1864, composer Peter Ludwig Hertel created yet another new score. But it is Herold’s music, in various arrangements and orchestrations, that is usually heard today.


Although the ballet is the oldest in the current repertory, virtually nothing survives of Dauberval’s original choreography. Later versions have been created by Petipa and Ivanov (the “Swan Lake” team), Mikhail Mordkin, Bronislava Nijinska and others.

British choreographer Frederick Ashton created his version for the Royal Ballet in 1960, and it was this version that was danced by the Joffrey Ballet at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in 1987.

One of the constants throughout, however, remains a tradition of a man dancing the role of Widow Simone en travesti .

Ballet Pacifica will dance choreography by founding director Lila Zali, after the version by Russian dancer and choreographer Mikhail Mordkin.


Zali was in the New York-based Mordkin Ballet from 1938 until it became the nucleus of American Ballet Theatre in 1940. (She later joined the Colonel de Basil Ballet Russe, which disbanded in 1946.)

“I was very young, and danced primarily in the corps de ballet,” Zali said in a recent phone interview. “But you watched everything that went on.”

Ballet Pacifica has been dancing the work since 1969, according to Zali.

“It’s very challenging technically for the girl (Lise), and also in terms of the acting, of course. Being a comedy, there has to be a lot of acting.”


But financial concerns will rule out the traditional clog dance for Widow Simone, she said.

“We have not been able to find any kind of clogs you can really dance in,” Zali said. “He wears clogs, but takes them off to dance. To dance in, they have to be specially made and cost a fortune.”


Ballet Pacifica will dance Lila Zali’s “La Fille mal gardee” (after Mordkin) and “Arabesque” (music by Bach).



Saturday, Sept. 1, at 8 p.m.


Irvine Bowl, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.



Laguna Canyon Road to the Festival of Arts grounds.


$6 to $20. (A $35 package includes dinner at 6 p.m. at the Tivoli Terrace and main tier seating for the show.)


Where to call

(714) 642-9275.