A fairy tale brim full of fun

Jade Heusen in the beautifully danced Dance of the Hours, of of the many well known melodies in Delibes score,  Pictures Roy Smiljanic

Coppélia

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

LÉO Delibes tuneful score is worth the price of a ticket alone but add the likes of Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao and this comic ballet is a real delight.

And when Nao dances like this it is a real pleasure to watch. She has a fine comic touch, not easy to portray in ballet, allied to the coquettishness of Swanilda, but in her solos and pas de deux she just oozes class.

The story is simple. Franz and Swanhilda are an item except Franz, who is not the brightest of peasants, falls for a girl on a balcony not knowing she is a doll created by the mysterious Dr Coppélius.

So that night Swanhilda and the village maidens sneak into the bad doctor's workshop to find the mysterious girl while Franz clambers over the balcony on the same mission but with a different aim.

The Doc chases the girls out and then drugs Franz and tries to use his spirit to give life to his doll– which is no longer his doll but Swanhilda playing a joke.

The Doc finally catches on and chases them both out.

Her dance as the mechanical doll is not only long but not the easiest if it is to look robotic rather than merely arthritic and she managed that with style, jerky admittedly, but style none the less.

Chi has seemed out of sorts of late but seems to have found his form again with a superb performance as Franz, full of grace and athleticism - we even had a few smiles so he seemed to be enjoying himself. When Chi and Nao are on song like this you just sit back and enjoy.

And there were other quality performances with Victoria Marr, in one of her last appearances before here retirement after Giselle later this month, looking particularly sexy and sultry as a gypsy.

She arrives with travelling band of dancing gypsies who pop up in the village square – as they do. You can't move for bands of dancing gypsies in Sutton Coldfield town centre some days . . . 

Perfect pairing: Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma

Even in ensemble dances she seemed to have that extra bit of snap and vitality.

Act one gave us some traditional folk dances with the Czárdás from Hungary and the better known Mazurka from Poland.

In act three Jenna Roberts impressed in a beautifully danced solo as Prayer as did  the petit Angela Paul as Dawn.

Michael O'Hare had the nutty professor role as Dr Coppélius and did it well and you even felt a little sorry for him as he strives to give his doll a heart and emotion and is tricked by Swanhilda into believing that he has given her life.

Still he gets compensation from the Duke so it's not all bad and everyone get to live happily ever after.

The Duke is celebrating a new bell for the village church and gives a bag of gold to anyone getting married that day – step forward Franz and Swanhilda – or who has had their doll done over – step forward the Doc.

We than have a series of dances to portray the village life the bell will look over with Dawn and Prayer, a corps dance for Work, Arancha Baselga and Jonathan Caguioa dancing Betrothal, Mathias Dingman leading the men in Call to Arms and Nao and Chi rounding it off with Peace.

The scenery and costumes by Pater Farmer, as usual at BRB, are big, solid and sumptuous al beautifully lit by Peter Teigen.

Choreography is originally by Marius Petipa and Enrico Ceccetti and by Peter Wright.

That's one half of the performance. The other is the music and the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy with a special mention for whoever it was down in the depths who played the wonderful violin solos, presumably leader Richard Friedman.

Ballet lovers will enjoy every minute and for newcomers, the best of the comic ballets, light and easy to follow, is not a bad place to start. To 08-06-13.

Roger Clarke

 

A tragic heroine worthy of Puccini 

Coppélia might be a fun ballet, with no hint of the darker side of fairy tales, but its history has its own tragedy which would not look out of place in grand opera.

The role of Swanhilda was originally created by the Italian ballerina Giuseppina Bozzacchi who was just 16 when she appeared in the première at The Paris Opera on 25 May, 1870.

Its original choreographer, the celebrated Arthur Saint-Léon had been ill for some years and died of a heart attack two days after its first run came to a premature end that September because of the Franco-Prussian War.

The orginal Dr Coppélius, Francois-Édouard Dauty was also dead but perhaps most tragic of all was Swanhilda.

The Franco-Prussian war, which sowed the seeds of the First World War, was sparked by a the chance of a Prussian Prince on the throne of Spain, which would have extended Prussian influence with France in the middle. The squabbles between the neighbours erupted into war in summer 1870 and France was invaded.  The war ended in defeat for France the following May.

Bozzacchi, who had been discovered by Saint-Léon and the director of Opera, , after a long search for a Swanhilda,  danced the role for the 18th and final time on 31 August. The nation was at war and the Paris Opera closed for the duration.

The Opera not only shut its doors but also its purse. It stopped paying salaries and with no work for ballet dancers n a war ravaged France and no money the young Bozzacchi was soon starving.

She became weak, fell ill and finally contracted smallpox. She died on the morning of 23 November, 1870, almost six months to the day since she had become one of the most famous ballerinas in Paris. It was her 17th birthday. 

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