Review: La Fille mal gardée, Sunderland Empire, until tomorrow

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I CAN’T claim to be a ballet aficionado, but I know what I like and I loved this season’s offering from the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

There’s not many productions out there that can pull off being achingly beautiful and funny at the same time, but this show does it with aplomb.

Roughly translated as The Wayward Daughter in English, La Fille mal gardée is a romantic comedy set in the countryside in 18th-century France.

The ballet tells the story of Lise, a young maiden who must choose between the handsome, penniless farmer Colas and the wealthy simpleton Alain who her meddling mother wishes her to marry.

Nao Sakuma is poise personified as Lise and combines the innocence of a girl in the first flushes of love with the skill of a magnificent dancer.

From the tips of her fingers to the points of her toes, she was a joy to watch as she glided across the stage.

Her beau Colas (Iain Mackay) and his balletic prowess complemented her perfectly. He had panther-like strength as he skilfully conveyed the plot through the medium of dance.

Together, they were a joy to watch and you can’t help but be transfixed as their love blossoms.

There are also genuinely funny moments, making this show ideal for kids.

Hapless hero Alain, played by Robert Gravenor, is the foil of the piece and provides some rib-tickling moments as he attempts to impress with some less-than-impressive dance moves.

Meanwhile, Lise’s mother, Widow Simone, brings a panto dame-esque touch to the proceedings and his/her clumsy clog dance is a highlight of the night.

Enchanting, engaging, amusing, this ballet ticked all the boxes for me.