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Pennsylvania Ballet offers a delightful 'La Fille Mal Gardée'

Whenever her mother's back is turned, Lise sneaks off to see her boyfriend, Colas - not her mother's choice for a son-in-law.

Whenever her mother's back is turned, Lise sneaks off to see her boyfriend, Colas - not her mother's choice for a son-in-law.

It's an old story that still rings true, and the Pennsylvania Ballet's opening-night performance of La Fille Mal Gardée told it with humor, quirky charm, and delightful dancing.

La Fille was first staged in 1789 in France; Pennsylvania Ballet dances the version Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed in 1960, set to a score by Ferdinand Hérold. The company premiered it here in 2005 and hadn't danced it again until Thursday night at the Academy of Music.

More than most, La Fille is a ballet that relies heavily on acting, and the cast was up to the task. Arantxa Ochoa, as Lise, and Francis Veyette, who danced in place of Zachary Hench as her love interest, Colas, are far older than the characters they portrayed. But after a few moments, those age differences melted away. Ochoa's performance was rich with emotion, from her reactions to two very different suitors to attempts to work herself into a little tantrum when she didn't get her way.

Ochoa's dancing was amazingly controlled and strong. She performed a jaw-dropping promenade, partnered only by a series of ribbons held taut by other dancers. Later, she danced a pas de deux with Veyette as he leaned through an open window, her pirouettes unhampered by the physical limitations.

Veyette is a principal dancer-in-waiting, a soloist whose promotion was announced Tuesday but doesn't take effect until the fall. But he already has risen to the occasion with a performance that included a strong series of turns.

Ian Hussey nearly stole the show as the goofball son of a prosperous vineyard owner (Pennsylvania Ballet II director William DeGregory) whom Lise's mother (ballet master Jeffrey Gribler, in drag) wants her to marry. He danced klutzy versions of classical steps, with a ridiculous, overly enthusiastic expression on his face the whole time.

The performance was dotted with magical moments of fun, from the adorable live pony pulling a cart across the stage to the five amusing dancers strutting in chicken costumes. Hussey "flew" on a red umbrella, and the large cast danced around a maypole. Dancers also made cat's cradles and other designs out of long ribbons, creating the formations through their steps.

La Fille Mal Gardée is not performed often, which is a shame - it is light as air, thoroughly enjoyable, child-friendly, and well worth seeing. Catch it while you can.