Coming up in April at the Royal Ballet is that most English of all ballets, Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, with bucolic set designs by Osbert Lancaster and a real shetland pony. The lead roles of Lise and Colas will be danced by a variety of RB principles, none of them actually English, but all able to dance with the lyricism, musicality and unflashy technique that Ashton’s choreography and the English tradition demands. It’s made me think back to a famous Japanese exponent of the English style, Miyako Yoshida.
Yoshida was born in October 1965 and began dancing at the age of nine. In 1983 she won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne and came to the UK to study at the Royal Ballet School. A year later she joined Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (later Birmingham Royal Ballet) and was promoted to principal in 1988. In 1995 she transferred to the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden where she stayed until 2010. In 2006 she won the award for Best Female Dancer in the National Dance Awards.
She was much admired for her classical dancing, both in Birmingham and at the Royal Ballet. Sir Peter Wright gave her the ultimate accolade: ‘In a way I find she almost understands the English style more than the English do.’
The role she became most identified with was the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Pretty, precise and lyrical Yoshida was ideally suited to this role.
Dance critic Ismene Brown suggested that, towards the end of her career, ‘Yoshida’s decorous classicism, restrained physicality and lack of interest in modern work made her seem as old-fashioned as a girl in pearls inside a sleek city gym.’ But that was what Ashton’s choreography demanded, and what her audience loved her for.
Her final performance at the Royal Opera House was in Cinderella, with Steven McRae as her prince, though her final moments onstage were in Romeo and Juliet at the Bunka Kaikan theatre in Tokyo as part of The Royal Ballet’s summer tour.
If you want to see Miyako Yoshida dance, a DVD of the Royal Ballet production of Ondine with Yoshida in the title role is available for £24.99 from the ROH shop and online.
La Fille mal gardée is a simple and charming story of girl who wants to marry a poor farmer while her mother wants her to marry a wealthy landowner. Highlights include dancing chickens and a clog dance.
It’s on at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden from 16 April to 5 May. Tickets go on general sale on 27th January at 10am. You can book online on the Royal Opera House website but you’ll need to be poised ready to go as they sell out fast. There’s also a live cinema screening on 5 May at a wide range of cinemas – check your local!