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Review: Coppelia, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome

Richard Edmonds reviews Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of Coppelia at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Coppelia, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome
*****
Roy Smiljanic Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of Coppelia
Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of Coppelia

I think few people would argue with me when I say that Peter Wright’s production of Coppelia for Birmingham Royal Ballet is a classic masterpiece with little to rival it in the world of ballet today.

Here is a production furnished with everything genius (and Peter Wright has that rare quality in spades) could devise for it.

In fact the ballet is a dazzling compendium of the elements which make up a marvellous evening’s theatre, stunning costumes, evocative sets (both by Peter Farmer and a triumph in every respect) lighting by Peter Teigen which is one of the quiet pleasures of the evening, and on top of all this the score by Delibes with a czardas in Act One that brings the whole company sweeping down the stage and sets your hair on end with its sweep and style.

And before another word is written, I raise a glass of champagne to this remarkable company who danced as though their very lives depended on it. The great set pieces had an energy and beauty which was almost palpable.

At one point soon after dawn in this exquisite Transylvanian village (and a Peter Teigen sunrise is a lighting masterpiece), the villagers in their national dress assemble to dance the fertility sequence where an ear of corn is shaken for the bride to be - if she hears the seeds rattle, she is in luck, if nothing is heard, she has cause to grieve (we should remember that this is a village with magic round every corner).

After a few duff takes on the corn ear, it rattles away and Swanilda (the ravishingly beautiful and technically superb Nao Sakuma) gives us that lovely smile, the clouds blow away and she is happy again, partnered by her fiancee Franz (the equally superb Chi Cao, an intelligent dancer now on top of his form, lithe and wonderfully convincing endowing his character with humour and sensitivity).

After flirtations and a few crocodile tears, the toy shop sequence begins, the dolls dance, and it is a wonderful moment in the ballet.

Old Dr Coppelius (Michael O’Hare perfect among his life-size dolls and bubbling retorts) struggles to give Franz’s soul to the doll he has made, but fails. There is laughter here and tragedy. The old man is duped by Swanilda and his dreams of creating life are finally dashed.

Finally there are reconciliations and the ballet closes in a Teigen sunset with a grand palace across a lake glowing like a Russian lacquered box. Great dancing again and superlative mime.

But two things have been lost. Why was there no moon in the toymaker’s studio? It is the perfect final touch to the scene. And, most importantly, why has the sequence where the doll comes to life, something which has always closed the ballet, also been cut?

This is a serious omission and the judicious amongst the audience may well grieve for its loss.

 
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