Coppélia – Birmingham Hippodrome

Music: Léo Delibes

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Enrico Cechetti, Peter Wright

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

Heaven knows what was going through original librettist Charles-Louis Étienne Nuitter’s mind when he conceived this plot for Coppélia. Probably much of what was left of the industrial grade absinthe those Impressionist wusses dabbling in their grimy Montmartre garrets didn’t have the bottle to soak over their sugar cubes. Certainly, its silly, giddy conceit still resonates tonight. Shamelessly romantic, deceptively frivolous and gorgeously executed, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s wry, probing tongue in your cheek panache, Coppélia, giggles and guiles with nuanced, naughty brio.

Gossamer svelte, deceptively toned with savvy élan, Nao Sakuma, portrays love interest, Swanilda, with mimic wit and beguiling balletic delight. She’s supposed to be gooey-gone on feather-headed, lithe-thighed, lush-dish Franz (Joseph Caley) – and who wouldn’t be? Their subsequent pyrotechnic pas de deux derring-dos make for spectacular mockeries of gravity.

Unsurprisingly, plot proceedings necessitate he gets ants-in-pants silly over Coppélia who sits on the balcony reading with intense study. Spoiler alert! She’s a doll, a lifeless marionette. Never been a problem before for the likes of Franz – he likes a challenge – even better, not one at all. She’s a creation of Michael O’Hare’s deranged Dr Coppélius, a nutcase necromancer. Picture Ian Holm’s aging Bilbo getting repossession of Sauron’s Ring? Best move on with that thought. There are echoes of Pygmalion’s obsession with his Galatea. (Honestly! What is it with some men and their displacement womb envy?)

The set-piece rustic dances are eye-candy dazzling with synchronized spectacular moments that aspire to Renaissance Court grandeur with their swirling scarlet and green costumes. Byzantine, Gypsy bar-room queen temptress, Daria Stanciulescu, ruffles a few hormones as the ribald cavorting reaches its climax.

Highlight delight tonight has to be as Coppélia’s, clockwork-bound waif, finds her own escapement, a momentary metamorphic release from the mechanical constraints of her possessive creator. But alas, only through dumb show as Swanilda mimics her vital spark to ridicule the silly Doctor’s faux-Prospero pomposity.

Set Designer, Peter Farmer (1941-2017) to whom this season is dedicated, creates an intoxicating emporium of bubbling bottles and gurgling demijohns coupled with part dormant, ever threatening tick-tocking marionettes slumbering in their potential commedia dell’arte malfeasance. Think Terry Gilliam, think Blade Runner – think of it as a delirious miracle of rare device – a forgivable, if not compulsory, gluttony of the imagination.

Animation sensation defines this two-hour pageant of bewildering, ravishing aplomb. A pithily witty performance of poise and balance driven by top-notch tunes executed with delicious, dynamic dexterity.

Runs until 17 June 2017 and on tour| Image: Andrew Ross

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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