Coppélia – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Director & Choreographer: Morgann Runacre-Temple & Jessica Wright

Dramaturg & Adaptor: James Jeff

What separates us from our electronic companions? If all it is, is flesh, then perhaps it’s time we reviewed the situation. Narratives of falling in love with a composite human, a homunculus, are as old as literature. But rarely is the concept so articulated modernised than with Coppélia. Scottish Ballet, in looking to the now not-too-distant future, revitalises the tale to hold up a rather polished chrome mirror of sorts to our obsessions with technology, improvements, and the devaluing of life.

The skeleton of Arthur Saint-Léon’s Ballet exists, dressed in circuitry and silicon, but gone is the quaintness of Austrian villages, gone too are the pale ceramics of living dolls and their makers. Streamlined, cold and clinical – perfect for the Social Media generation, this time the Silicon Valley empire of NuLife treads the footsteps of folklore, breathing new life into the antiquated tale.

A shudder ripples whenever the terminology ‘digital age’ intrudes on a classical piece, especially one such as Coppélia – commonly regarded as the pinnacle example of a comedic ballet. Worse still, is when the artistry of filmmaking slides into the mix with a very physical and live form of artistic expression in dance. But what wonder Scottish Ballet weave. What triumph they deservedly celebrate, as Coppélia rises once more, infused with a sense of contemporary genius, dry wit and victorious ambition.

Some will recognise and propagate the concepts of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror; perhaps Luc Besson’s Fifth Element (the wigs certainly lean into this notion), or even the infamous HAL-9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a disservice to the talents of Jeff James text and dramaturgy, who take these inspirations to craft unique aspects. Blending dance, orchestral, theatre, and a balance of live filmmaking and pre-recording, Coppélia is a visual explosion

The choreography has an ergonomics quality, often with outstretched limbs, smooth but skirting the edges of the uncanny valley. While lifts are present, much of the movement focuses on the jittering indulgence of dance, utilising false limbs as extensions to offer elements of uncomfortable body horror, pushing the production closer to a horror sci-fi than at first glance.

Tight black turtleneck? Check. Narcissism? Check. Precise and often quite humorous dance moves? Double-check. A renewed Dr Coppelius via Steve Jobs, Bruno Micchiardi takes the performative aspect of Ballet to fresh heights alongside Scottish Ballet’s finest asset Constance Devernay-Laurence as snooping journalist Swanhilda. The pair recognise the intentions of Morgann Runacre-Temple & Jessica Wright’s direction and choreography, bringing a more theatrical sense of expression and movement, and treating the camera as an extension of the audience.

Coppélia is an exhilarating multimedia experience, where Léo Delibes, Mikael Karlsson, and Michael P Atkinson’s musical composition tells as much of the text as the video design or movement. A crowning achievement in adaptation, both of original Ballet and medium of expression.

Runs at the Festival Theatre until August 16 2022

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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