Culture Writer Nicole Haynes attends Coppelia and finds the show to be spellbindingly traditional

Written by nicolehayness

As a ballet lover, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Coppelia’ was my first interaction with this particular story, and it did not disappoint. After enjoying the company’s excellent performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ last year, I already knew the exceptional calibre of talent at Birmingham Royal Ballet, but I was still not prepared for the joy and escapism that was ‘Coppelia’. 

A product of the Romantic ballet tradition, ‘Coppelia’ follows the story of Dr Coppelius, an eccentric toy-maker. He creates life-size dolls in his workshop, including the beautiful Coppelia. Placing her on his balcony, the villagers of the town begin to wonder who this mysterious figure is, not realising she is merely a doll. Here we meet our mischievous protagonist, Swanilda, and her fiance Franz, who takes a particular interest in Coppelia. Swanilda is not best pleased, and meddles her way into Dr Coppelius’ workshop to pose as the doll.

Led by Principal Conductor Paul Murphy, the live orchestra played wonderfully throughout the performance. Delibes’ score is tuneful and provides the perfect accompaniment to the action on stage. When Leo Delibes’ beautiful score began and the curtain opened for Act One, the audience was left in awe of the beautiful set. The designers stayed close to the traditional story, utilising various house and balcony set pieces to create a village. Accompanied by a leafy green backdrop, the stage appeared as a picturesque utopia. 

Delibes’ score is tuneful and provides the perfect accompaniment to the action on stage

Immersing us even further, was the introduction of the incredible Celine Gittens as Swanilda. She masterfully embodied the loveable heroine by combining her grace and technique with beautiful emotion. The hilarious storytelling was strong from the get-go, with both Gittens and Tyrone Singleton (playing Franz) excelling. The principal dancers established an entertaining rapport between one another, helping the audience to understand their playful relationship. The introduction of Swanilda’s friends and the corps de ballet was visually stunning. Their elaborate costuming was breath-taking, with Swanilda’s friends in beautiful romantic-style skirts and the corps de ballet wearing visceral green and burgundy costumes. 

Act Two presented Dr Coppelius’ emporium appearing like something out of a story book. Having snuck in, Swanilda and her friends explored the toy-shop, presented with an array of life-size dolls, including Coppelia. Gittens intelligently embodied Coppelia coming to life. Choreographically, the traditional style was extremely technically demanding. Gittens effortlessly executed hops en pointe and beautiful pirouettes without sacrificing her sense of performance and character. Her teasing of Dr Coppelius brought the audience to laughter. Michael O’Hare, senior repetiteur, played Dr Coppelius excellently, bringing the strange figure to life and building an intriguing semiotic relationship with his other performers on stage.

Act Three tied the story together, but also gave the dancers an opportunity to showcase their skills and talent. Following a celebration in the village, the dancers performed various solos, duets and ensemble pieces in response. The ‘Dance of the Hours’ featured the Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. The costuming here was exquisite and the number gave the dancers a chance to demonstrate their balletic expertise.

Yijang Zhang’s solo depicting prayer and worship particularly stood out to me

Again, the use of formations and choreography created an elegant viewing experience. Yijang Zhang’s solo depicting prayer and worship particularly stood out to me. Her technical ability was outstanding, but what really made her shine was her seraphic facial expressions and emotional vulnerability whilst performing. Another standout soloist was Riku Ito, who was featured in one of the ensemble dances. His excellently executed a la seconde pirouettes and gravity-defying allegro sections were simply astonishing. This section gave the male dancers a well-deserved opportunity to show off their jumps and turns.

Concluding the production was Swanilda and Franz symbolically representing peace in their pas de deux and final solos. Gittens and Singleton’s duet was polished and beautiful, with their bedazzled costumes only adding to the angelic effect. The focus here was on their enchanting dancing and both performed beautifully.

All in all, ‘Coppelia’ is on its way to becoming one of my favourites. The immersive world-building, accompanied by its captivating choreography and dancers created a wonderful viewing experience. The production reminded me why I fell in love with ballet in the first place, and is a perfect example of the art-form at its best.

Rating: 5/5

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