We broke off our discussion of the buildup to the Fille spanking scene at the crucial moment when Lise is caught by her mother and her friends sent packing. It’s a moment when, usually, everything crystallizes into the general realization of what the immediate future holds, which won’t be comfortable for Lise:
And this means that for her, there’s one overriding imperative from now on: escape!
Some productions don’t give her much chance. The 2006 staging by Mexico’s Xalapa Ballet Royal took things very briskly at this point. The friends are hustled away as soon as Lise is caught – though you’ll notice that they don’t actually leave the stage! – and Lise tries to go with them, but she’s spotted by the Widow, taken by the wrist and led over to meet her fate. And there’s obviously no doubt at all for Lise what that fate is to be: as she shakes her head and puts her free hand protectively on her bottom, there couldn’t be a more eloquent mime of the words, ‘No, please, not a spanking!’ But a spanking is what she gets, with even the boys looking on:
But often it isn’t nearly so simple. The pre-spanking sequence has developed more and more options during the half-century the ballet has been in existence in its present form, and the different elements can be adopted or not in whatever combination is preferred, so there is the potential for a really elaborate and complex buildup to the moment of truth. And of course, when it comes to a spanking scene, anticipation is half the pleasure.
Let’s rewind for a moment. Trying to make a surreptitious exit, Lise has just backed her way into her angry mother.
Simone now has two things to deal with: Lise and her friends. So she ‘parks’ Lise for a moment, which sometimes means physically picking her up and putting her on one side. Some Lises look anxious at this point, and well they might: it shows just how physically dominant her mother is capable of being, which doesn’t bode well for what she knows is coming.
Simone must now deal with her other problem, getting rid of the friends. Often she leaves Lise with a clear instruction, a finger pointing to the ground, sometimes furious, sometimes curt, but always conveying the same message: ‘Stay there.’ And with that she turns her attention to shooing the friends away.
They often scatter in fear of getting the same treatment as Lise has in store:
‘Stay there’? Lise does nothing of the sort! Sometimes she tries to leave with the friends, hoping either to blend surreptitiously in with the numbers as in the Xalapa production, or simply make a dash for it in the vain hope of being too quick for her mother.
Other Lises are more ambitious, taking advantage of the ladder leading up to the hayloft stage left.
The plan is that Lise will just disappear while mom’s back is turned. The fatal flaw is that it it’s a long ladder, and it doesn’t take Simone that long to dispose of her unwanted visitors.
So near, and yet so far!
Whether Lise has been lifted down or pulled back, she’s now physically in Simone’s grasp. And Simone no longer has anything to divide her attention. Lise may be able to slip free, but the Widow’s reflexes are quick, and she snatches at her escaping daughter, catching her by the hem of her skirt.
And that means Lise’s caught. She may try to pull away, but Simone holds on tight.
The battle of wills becomes a tug of war, with the skirt the thing that seems most at risk.
Earlier, the twists and turns of Lise’s dance with Colas wove her ribbon into a love-knot. Now her ducking and diving has a similar effect on her skirt.
It’s a moment whose full indignity mainly appears only in some professional productions, when Lise ends up with the seat of her panties fully exposed. (Amateur Lises tend to be shyer.)
Not every Lise is that difficult to control. Some are just walked over to the bench, held only by the wrist.
But the more Lise struggles, the more Simone will have to assert herself. Many a fille finds herself being physically carried to meet her doom. This one seems prematurely mortified:
But most are still struggling and fluttering their legs as the Widow, depending on the dancer’s physical strength, slings her over the shoulder…
… or under the arm:
And if it’s done with the exceptional skill shown here by Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Lise’s skirt and petticoats will billow and give us another foretaste of what is to come.
Which is, of course…
A good spanking!