Coppelia

February 5, 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Playful and quirky

There is much to delight and entertain in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Coppelia, playing at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Yet, it lacks convincing depth and structure to fully deliver its potential.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Matthew Lawrence as Franz. Photo: Roy Smiljanic

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Matthew Lawrence as Franz. Photo: Roy Smiljanic

Coppelia is quirky and imaginative, full of charm with the potential to be both tense and celebratory. Each act reveals a different element to the story. Beginning with light-hearted gaiety and frivolity, it twists and turns through the macabre and into salvation. It’s a formula that should guarantee to grip.

And yet Peter Wright’s production fails to do so. On the surface, the delivery is charming and comical. The performances are entertaining, if perhaps technically imperfect in parts. But delving deeper, the production lacks emotional depth.

The traditional ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti unfolds over three acts, but Peter Wright’s production delivers a performance of two parts, separating story from dance.

The first two acts follow the story of Coppelia with the plot revolving around the relationship of the young lovers, Swanilda and Franz. The appearance of Coppelia – the mechanical doll created by eccentric toymaker Dr Coppelius that he plots to bring to life – is mistaken by Swanilda as a threat.

timing and alignment

In these first two acts, the story is told primarily through acting and mime – to the extent that dance becomes the secondary element, almost forgotten. The timing and alignment in the sparse dance sequences aren’t quite right. The dancers are occasionally off-balance, the spacing on stage is challenging and the movements of the dancers across the stage seems more contrived than fluid.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and David Morse as Dr Coppelius. Photo: Roy Smiljanic

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and David Morse as Dr Coppelius. Photo: Roy Smiljanic

The shift to Dr Coppelius’ house has the potential to find a darker edge to the ballet, as imagined in Hoffmann’s short story Der Sandmann, on which it is based. However, the overbearing mime and comedic moments dilute the suspense.

Disappointingly the character of Dr Coppelius (Michael O’Hare), is a non-dancing role – the manipulation of Swanilda (Elisha Willis) impersonating his doll and eventual anguish and torment of betrayal could have been a spectacular dance sequence.

In contrast, the third act switches the established dynamic. Here, the dance becomes the primary element and the story becomes somewhat lost. Meant to represent the wedding ball, the production delivers a sequence of separate dances in place of the end to the story it so painstakingly sets up.

The contrasting artistic direction throughout leaves a lingering sense of confusion. It feels as though the production, originally performed in 1995, could benefit from some updating and reinvention.

Despite this, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Coppelia is, on the whole, pleasant and entertaining. The staging for each of the three acts is impressive, creating a magical, dark and then grand backdrop for the dancers.

Joseph Caley shines as Franz. He delivers a confident and assured performance as the arrogant and fickle lover. Duets with his beau, Swanilda, are charming and dainty. Willis’ performance as Swanilda, impersonating Coppelia, is the saving grace of the second act as she becomes the unintentional heroine, albeit with a tendency for slapstick. However, together the couple don’t quite manage to portray a sense of emotional connectedness throughout. With instead, Leo Delibes’ wonderful musical score providing the missing emotion.

There are some particularly outstanding moments contained within the production. Emily Smith’s short performance as the doll, Coppelia, on the balcony in act one is captivating, expressing human emotion in the inhuman. Also worthy of note is the footwork throughout, and the all-male ensemble performance of Call to Arms, which adds an exciting sense of dynamism and enthusiasm to the wedding celebrations.

Coppelia is a lighthearted, entertaining celebration, guaranteed to appeal to all ages. However, on a deeper level, it leaves a sense of the unfulfilled: that it could be so much more.

Running time: 2 hours 30 (including 2 intervals)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 4 – Saturday 7 February 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Thurs & Sat, 2.30pm.
Tickets and details from: http://www.edtheatres.com/coppelia

Coppelia on tour:
Wed 4 – Sat 7 Feb 2015 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Tue 24 – Sat 28 Feb 2015 Birmingham
Hippodrome
0844 338 5000 Book online
Wed 4 – Sat 7 March 2015 Salford
Lowry Theatre
08432 086000 Book online
Thurs 26 – Sat 28 March 2015 Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online

ENDS

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