This was the first time that I have seen The Birmingham Royal Ballet perform, or a performance of Coppelia by French composer Leo Delibes, so tonight was one of those "what will happen" visits to the theatre for me.
The wonderful music of Leo Delibes was performed tonight by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia and right from the opening music, you know that you are on familiar ground as Delibes' beautiful music for this ballet has had nearly 150 years to get into our musical souls (first performed in 1870).
The first things that caught my attention tonight were not specific dancers, but the wonderful opening village street set to Act 1 and the amazing costumes, both by Peter Farmer. It is here that we meet Swanilda (Elisha Willis), Franz (Joseph Caley) and Dr Coppelius (Michael O' Hare). Swanilda and Franz are supposed to be getting married soon, but Franz seems very interested in the beautiful young woman (Coppelia) sitting reading on the balcony of the home of Dr Coppelius. Swanilda is annoyed that she has been completely ignored by the woman and Franz can not understand how his charms are not working this time. No one of course knows that the young woman is an automaton built by Dr Coppelius.
Another amazing set in Act II takes us to the workshop of Dr Coppelius as Swanilda and her friends use a key they found to gain entry. Franz also enters via a ladder to meet the mysterious woman. Dr Coppelius returns and finds the girls and then finds Franz. Using a potion to drug Franz, Dr Coppelius decides to use his magic to drain the life force out of Franz and bring his Coppelia automaton to life. Unknown to him though, this is Swanilda still in hiding and pretending to be the brought to life automaton.
Act III and another amazing set and more beautiful costumes is the garden of the Duke's mansion where the betrothed couple receive a gift of money in a purse from the Duke.
Choreography for Coppelia is by Marius Patipa, Enrico Cecchetti and Peter Wright, and is a blend of many elements. Wonderful classical ballet of course, but also Eastern European folk dance and at times almost "silent movie" dramatics. All the elements blend together on those wonderful sets that use the full depth of the large stage that The Festival theatre offers. This is a big budget performance with a large cast of performers on stage at times.
Is the dancing any good though? The answer is of course yes, not just good, but just incredible to watch. Both Elisha Willis (Swanilda) and Joseph Caley (Franz) are not just accomplished dancers, but very good dramatic actors who manage to convey meaning without words all through the performance. Both dancers put on an amazing performance of technical skills all night. Joseph, as well as displaying some amazing technical skills, also effortlessly performs many power lifts throughout the night and Elisha, while displaying many of the technical moves that many little girls imagine a great ballerina to do (and dream of maybe doing one day), also makes incredible moves requiring enormous strength and balance look so easy. What is more important though is that these two work well on stage. There is a chemistry there and both are obviously very comfortable dancing together. Michael O' Hare's role as Dr Coppelius is not a dancing one, but a dramatic one and his gentle performance of the slightly eccentric old man holds all three acts together.
Other highlights tonight were Angela Paul as The Gypsy, and the Gypsy dance from Act I. Also from Act III we have the "Dance of the Hours" and "The Dawn of the New Day". Act II in the toyshop/workshop of course has more of the wonderful automatons of Dr Coppelius.
This whole show is just a wonderful performance from start to finish and a pleasure to spend an evening at the theatre experiencing. Just go and see it and have a great evening out at the theatre watching great talents, great dancers and great sets and lighting...and of course listening to the wonderful music of Leo Delibes.
Review by Tom King