I’ve only been to the ballet once before, to watch Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s Swan Lake in el Teatro Nacional de Cuba, Havana, its stage graced by prima ballerina-turned-director superstar, Alicia Alonso. That once in a lifetime experience convinced me that I rather enjoyed ballet – yet for 20 years I have failed to see another production. Until last night.
When I heard that Birmingham Royal Ballet would bring Coppélia to the Bristol Hippodrome for a week, I knew that this must be the perfect introduction to staged ballet for my 10 year old dancer daughter. The plot is simple and the mood uplifting. Dr Coppélius (Michael O’Hare) is an eccentric toymaker who is thrilled that the townsfolk believe his most treasured creation, the mechanical yet beautiful doll Coppélia, to be a real person as she sits demurely on his balcony, reading. In pygmalion desperation, he will weave magic and even attempt to offer human sacrifice in order to make her a living, breathing woman. That intended sacrifice is Franz (Tyrone Singleton), a young lover with a roving eye, who is betrothed to Swanilda (Céline Gittens), a woman driven to despair by his flirtatious behaviour with every female who looks his way and especially with the mysterious Coppélia. On realising Dr Coppélius’ plot, Swanilda causes glorious mayhem in the inventor’s home as, hell bent on saving her love, she dresses as the eponymous doll and really comes to life, in what, for me, was easily the best act of the show, Gittens proving a playful and effortless leading lady to Singleton’s cheeky playboy.
The dancing is, I imagine, true to the discipline of ballet and I’m not sure how much leeway for flair and individuality there is in such a timeless classic? Stand outs to my fully untrained eye, however, were Delia Mathews as ‘Prayer’ and Mathias Dingman as Leader of the Call to Arms in Act III. Both had me reaching for the binoculars, mouth moving in a ‘Wow’ shape.
Peter Farmer’s scenery is superbly ornate and we both loved his red and green costumes (boots with heels!), worn by the townsfolk. The orchestra play Léo Delibes 1870 score with meaning and the whole thing comes together just as it should.
Classic ballet probably isn’t for me, when all said and done, but my young companion loved it and the audience were extremely appreciative of the spectacle before them. This is definitely a safe bet for a first timer and a perfect ballet to take the kids to.
Coppélia plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 1st July
Image by Michael Ross, with thanks