A living doll with star quality

call to arms

Mathias Dingman leading the call to arms. Picture: Andrew Ross

Coppélia

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

IF the sky was a little brighter over Thorp Street last night it was all down to BRB's newest star Momoko Hirata.

We have seen her before of course, most recently dancing the same role of Swanhilda with the boss, BRB director David Bintley in an Evening of Music and Dance at Symphony Hall.

But on the opening night of Peter Wright’s production of Coppélia she positively shone. It was a dazzling performance displaying exquisite footwork, precise, and remarkably deft, full of confidence, well acted and beautifully danced.

She gave us a coquettish Swanhilda, showing her displeasure when she is ignored by Dr Coppélius’s lifelike doll, a nice cameo from Miki Mizutani, and even mJenna Robertsore displeasure when her sweetheart Franz, shows more than a passing interest in the mysterious girl on the good doc’s workshop balcony.

César Morales as Franz is a perfect foil for the diminutive Hirata. He is powerful, athletic and an easy fit for the role, dancing with a permanent twinkle in his eye.

Hirata showed a lovely bent for comedy in the second act as she pretends to be Coppélia, the doc’s clockwork doll while the pas de deux with Morales in La Paix in Act III is just stunning. A mention too for the virtuoso violin of Robin Gibbs, leader of the consistently excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia. His playing matched the dancing both in the La Paix and Ballade in Act I.

Jenna Roberts representing  Prayer. Picture: Roy Smiljanic

Not that it was all the leading pair though, the first Act was as good as you are likely to see, bright and lively with wonderful dancing from the entire cast, starting with Swanhilda’s six girl friends, so convincing you almost expected them to put their handbags in the centre of the stage to dance around.

They were matched by a troop of travelling Gypsies, with lead dancer Daria Stanciulescu most impressive dancing with Franz, a deux to far and one which really does get Swanhilda’s tutu in a twist.

Mind you I do wonder, even in Léo Delibes 19th century France, how often a troop of passing gypsies suddenly turned up mid morning for a village square dance. We miss out on these pastoral scenes these days.

The standard is maintained in the subsequent acts with Michael O’Hare superb in the character role of Dr Coppélius, and his interaction with Hirata is a joy. His doctor could be straight from a Hollywood cartoon with his exaggerated eccentricity and quick dainty footsteps so he seemingly glides across the stage. His is a character full of explanatory gestures to tell the story and we feel genuinely sorry for him when he realises he has been tricked by Swanhilda and his beloved doll is a cryin', talkin', sleepin', walkin' far from livin’ and now broken doll.

Act III sees the Duke, danced by Yasuo Atsuis, holding a party to celebrate presenting a new bell to the village church, as well as gifts of gold to Franz and Swanhilda along with two more couples getting married that day.

As it is a party then it is a time for party pieces with lovely solos from Yvette Knight as Dawn and Jenna Robert as Prayer as well as an energetic dance in the call to arms by Mathias Dingman and eight male dancers, all before Rory Mackay as Father Time, looking a bit like Gandalf’s long lost brother.

The production, first seen in 1995, is enhanced by Peter Farmer’s splendidly sumptuous designs from the bucolic village scene, to the gloomy gothic workshop of Dr Coppélius and finally the evening garden of the Duke.

Mind you Dr Coppélius could well be related to Dr Who the way his small, village cottage, like the famed police box, hides a huge interior.

The good doctor is paid compensation for his damaged doll, everyone lives happily every after and heads off home with a smile on their face, including the audience. To 28-02-15

Roger Clarke

24-02-15 

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