Coppelia – Garden Theatre, London                                 

Reviewer: Jane Darcy     

Choreographer and Director: William Spencer

Composers: Tchaikovsky and Delibes

William Spencer’s delicious little comedy, The Supermarket Suite opens this double bill of all male jazz ballet. Two cashiers mischievously dance out their fantasies before the entrance of a disdainful shopper. Who could imagine that humdrum supermarket life could become something so funny? One shopper reveals it’s possible to dance while distracted on your mobile. Aaron Clingham’s music for this cleverly reworks Tchaikovsky classics, even slipping in here the the relentless ping of tills.

Spencer gives equal comic skill to his choreography and direction of the main piece, Coppelia. Delibes’ nineteenth-century ballet about Dr Coppelius who seeks to bring to life a beautiful doll is given a hilariously clever reworking for four male dancers. There are playful variations on the theme of sexual jealousy. Two tiara-clad dancers vie for the attention of a third; various pairs of young men subsequently fight over a young woman. Coppelia herself, glimpsed in a red-lit window, is evidently a faceless mannequin. But she draws naive admirers. As they circle, the sinister Dr C (Thomas Buckley) manoeuvres her limbs: she woodenly mirrors their increasingly lurid gestures. At other times there are droll male mating rituals. Two men in sexy swimming trunks perform cheeky downward dogs. A sauna or a bikram yoga session? And was there a Dance of the Rubber Dildos in the original?

It’s all good fun. What is consistently engaging about this piece is the inventive, witty story-telling. You may not know the story of Coppelia, but so expressive is the choreography, you’ll get what is going on. The dancing is superb, all four performers throwing themselves into this deconstruction of classical ballet, revelling in their pretend inability to dance as much as in their evident skill. Lewis Rimmer may be able to stretch his giraffe-like legs to his head, but happily undercuts this with a moue of surprise when he manages the splits. He is particularly notable when, disguised as an oiled Barbie-doll Ken, he pretends to be Coppelia coming to life, his marionette jerkiness at first following the original choreography. Buckley is tremendous as creepy Dr C, lusting after his doll, unless, that is, he’s out exposing himself in mac and suspenders. Hayden Tierney and Jack Buchanan are both delightful in their energetic range of comic parts.

The Franco-Prussian war cut short Delibes’ Coppelia soon after it premiered in 1870. The pandemic put paid to Peter Bull’s Coppelia back in 2020. Delibes’ work went on to become the most performed ballet at the Paris Opéra. This Coppelia deserves equally wild success.                                                                                                                                                                                   Runs until 14 August 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Sexily comic ballet  

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