As the live orchestra strikes the opening chords to the roaring prelude de Mazurka on the opening night of The English National Ballet’s run of Coppélia at the New Theatre, the curtain rises to reveal the rustic, organic staging masterfully designed by Desmond Heeley. The simple village, traditionally set in medieval Bavaria, is the location for this most unusual and inexplicable of ballets.
*Spoiler alert* Originally choreographed in 1870 by Marius Petipa and remastered in this rendition by Ronald Hynd, Coppélia tells the story of a young couple on the eve of their wedding. Swanilda (the bride) is distraught to find the affections of her groom (Franz) straying to the mysterious girl (Coppélia) in the window of the doll makers house. Determined to recapture Franz’s heart, she sneaks into the house to destroy the doll.
Unaware of this, Franz also breaks in to find Coppélia, but is caught by her maker, Dr. Coppélius, instead. The Doctor drugs Franz, and attempts to use his heart to bring his beautiful doll to life, unaware that, in fact, Swanhila has disguised herself as Coppélia. Although the experiment appears to work, and the ‘doll’ appears to come to life, it is merely a ruse of Swanilda’s to save her fiancé and buy them the time they need to make their escape.
They finally reveal to the doctor that he has been tricked and make their escape. The next day they are married, and the village come together to celebrate, even a reluctant Dr. Coppélius.
The role of Swanilda, danced by Tamara Rojo, is without a doubt the most demanding role, and the lead displayed an impressive range, both within her technique and her acting, and was able to lead the audience through the increasingly bizarre plot seamlessly. Although at times some choreography suffered slight clumsiness, generally she commanded the stage well through her solos and mimes and flowed effortlessly into larger corps pieces.
Franz, danced by Yonah Acosta, also shone as the male principle for adopting the persona of the charismatic Casanova-wannabe charmingly and possessing a versatile catalogue of impressive allegro (jumps). Having been trusted with many of the comic touches added to this version, he was able to inject the necessary humour needed to keep this ballet from becoming a much darker tale than intended.
The rest of the cast must also be commended highly for their part, as this ballet is largely told through ensemble pieces and relies heavily on a strong corps to tackle the complex structures and intricate movements that Hynd visioned. To some people, the stage may sometime have been cluttered with too many dancers not dancing, but other would agree that the spectacle when the whole company came together was worth it.
This ballet would definitely be classed as ‘light relief’, and can be recommended for ballet novices and enthusiasts alike. The version brought to the New Theatre this week manages to draw everyone into the surreal story, allowing a traditional classical ballet to be accessible to the modern audience.
PHOTO/English National Ballet Publicity