‘Lesley Collier, pertest and cheekiest of all the company’s ballerinas, is surely the perfect Lise, zestful, stylish and technically assured.’
So wrote the ballet critic of the London Daily Mail in 1981. And indeed, that is part of what you want from a ballerina dancing the role of Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée: pert enough to invite a spanking, just self-assured enough not to be completely cowed by it and cute enough to make it an enjoyable spectacle when it happens.
Lesley Collier had been in the Royal Ballet’s Fille before she herself was the fille, starting in 1966; one of these performances, with Merle Park as Lise, was televised on Christmas Day 1971, giving viewers the chance to see Lesley as… a hen! She became a principal dancer with the company the following year, and gave her first Lise at the age of 26 on Boxing Day 1973; her last was 18 years later in 1991. And in between, her performance was preserved for posterity in another television production, made to mark the Royal Ballet’s 50th anniversary and broadcast by the BBC on May 4, 1981. It also featured Brian Shaw as Widow Simone and, incidentally, a future Lise, Jennifer Jackson, as one of the hens.
John Vernon’s television direction is sometimes a little too content to stay in long shot, which conveys something of the theater experience but means the standard-definition recording hasn’t aged as well as one might like. But there’s no real cause for complaint when it comes to our favorite bits.
And so to business. After Simone sees off Colas, Lise goes head to head with her in open defiance, but her resolution quickly wavers as her mother gets to work.
Afterwards, Lise rubs herself very expressively, several times over… but it’s not her smacked situpon that gets the attention. What she’s responding to is the ear-tweaking and face-slapping that follow the bottom-smacking. At least she seems chastened into some level of reasonable dutifulness. As usual, she at first declines her friends’ importunate invitation to abandon her chores and play with them, using the ‘fanning herself’ gesture rather than the ‘my mom will spank me’ mime; but after they have spirited away the butter churn, Collier offers a nice detail, with Lise visibly distressed to see that it has gone. Does she know what’s in store for her yet?
As she tries to evade Simone later on, we see the naughtier side of her, with a clear ‘tee hee’ in the performance as she creeps behind the defensive barrier of her friends, followed by open-mouthed dismay on finding that her mother has outsmarted her.
The friends are shooed away, but one of them hesitates, obviously concerned about what is going to happen to Lise once they’re gone; even after they through the gate, she stretches out a hand, trying to pull her playmate to safety. But to no avail: the widow has Lise by the skirts, and the outcome is inevitable.
Lise is carried bodily to the bench, fists and legs fluttering helplessly before she is set back on her feet.
But not for long…
She only gets two on the frillies before it’s interrupted, but this is a high-handed spanking, and you can tell from her expression that it really hurts!
And to add to the humiliation, it’s not just Farmer Thomas who sees, but a couple of random boys too.
And so Simone covers up her daughter and releases her.
Once again, Lise doesn’t rub her bottom; it seems what she’s mainly concerned about is that her skirt might not be straight, and, adorably, she repeatedly twitches away at it in the next few moments.
The perfect Lise? Well, there have been more elaborate renditions of the spanking scene, but Lesley Collier still ranks among the greats in the role.
Applause for her!