European Ballet tackle this sentimental piece with flair and a whole lot of individual talent
Oh to have been a fly on the wall on the evening of May 25, 1870, when Coppelia was premiered at the Théâtre Impérial de l'Opéra - the Paris Opera. The great and the good of Parisian society came out in force, as though to defy those who would seek to topple the city from its position as dance capital of the world.
They also came to revel in an intriguing new genre, a comedy ballet, offering a dramatic breakaway from the gloomy romantic ballets with which they were more familiar. Their delight at its enchanting story and charming characters was short lived, however, as the invasion of Paris by the Prussian army ended its run after only 18 performances and the beautiful building subsequently fell into decay.
Happily, Coppelia would survive these turbulent times and go on to become one of the most popular and frequently performed ballets in the canon.
A packed audience at the Theatre at the Mill experience a similar sense of anticipation as the curtain goes up on Stanislav Tchassov’s reworking of Marius Petipa’s famous Russian version of the ballet. It's a European Ballet production, a company which is comprised of talented young dancers from all over Europe.
As usual, its starting point is Leo Delibes’s gorgeous score. The extensive overture is laid out like a banquet before set and dancers are revealed. In it we sense not only familiar classical motifs, but also bright folk melodies, which were very much part of Coppelia’s ground-breaking appeal.
Never before had straight-laced ballet fans been treated to the sight of the clicking heels and outspread arms of folk dances like the mazurka and the czardas alongside the formal choreography they knew so well.
There is something refreshingly old-fashioned about Coppelia. This uncomplicated, if slightly silly, story of a fickle young man who falls in love with a mechanical doll, to the fury of his betrothed is, accessible and not difficult to get to grips with.
Maybe, because of the funding difficulties referred to in the programme, production values are kept plain and simple. Lavish sets are replaced by painted backcloths, portraying picturesque timbered buildings, quaint town squares and, in the final wedding scene, green fields and meadows signifying new growth and hope for the future.
There is no live music, though the recorded score is well balanced and works effectively through the generous acoustics of the theatre. Costumes are fresh and pretty, wholly in keeping with the spirit of the evening.
French-born soloists Claire Corruble and Vincent Cabot are vibrant, expressive and beautifully nuanced as the young lovers, Swanhilda and Franz. Both are superb dancers with a fine technique. The elevation of Cabot’s leaps and turns about the stage is breathtaking, and Corruble’s vivid personality, grace and steely control are also worth noting.
Together with Luca Ponti’s amusing turn as Dr. Coppelius, the elderly toy maker, these main dancers draw us persuasively into the twists and turns of Hoffmann’s original tale. In contrast, however, several young members of the corps de ballet seem uncertain and out of synch with each other.
Proceedings draw to a close with a series of ensemble dances, virtuoso solo divertissements and pas de deux, the latter winningly danced by Corruble and Cabot. To the delight of the audience, they ultimately compensate for some of the ragged edges elsewhere on stage.