Not-to-be missed dates for the diary are coming up for dance fans as English National Ballet visits the New Theatre from October 28 to November 1 with its enchanting production of Coppelia.
This version of the work is now 30 years old, featuring choreography by Ronald Hynd building on Marius Petipa’s 1884 original (if you forget the false start by Arthur Saint-Leon 14 years earlier).
That it still maintains an evergreen freshness was apparent at the performance I was lucky enough to see during ENB’S recent run at the London Coliseum. Only in Desmond Heeley’s rather chocolate-boxey sets is its age evident. Myself, I found they only added to the fairytale quality of the show.
The story we see played out was from the pen of ETA Hoffman, who was also the source for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, which bears some similarity to it in terms of toys coming to life. It invites comparison, too, for its richly melodic score, Leo Delibes having supplied the dancers with wonderful music for their steps, includ-ing a joyful Mazurka and a furious concluding gallop.
Though a joyful romp in the main, Coppelia maintains elements of Hoffman’s macabre original in the Frankenstein-like efforts of the doddery doll-maker Dr Coppelius to transfer the life-force of the hero Franz into his beautiful Coppelia doll. What happily scuppers his scheme is that Franz is actually wired up to his fiancée Swanilda who, having sneaked into the workshop with the other village girls, has substituted herself for the doll in a bid to disguise her presence.
Erina Takahashi, the Swanhilda I saw, gave an immensely impressive account of the role, her technical accomplishment evident throughout and not least in the marionette movements of Act II. It speaks volumes for the strength of the company under artistic director Tamara Rojo that her Fritz was a dancer considerably down the pecking order yet marvellous to see at work. Young Fernando Bufala, merely an ENB soloist at present, was in fact making his debut in the role. His fellow Spaniard Daniel Kraus, a junior soloist, was meanwhile making his first appearance as Dr Coppelius, ageing decades to give a convincing portrait of the old cross-patch.
With conductor Tom Seligman in tight control of the ENB Orchestra’s delivery of the effervescent score, this was a show to relish in every respect. With the uplifting harvest festival and wedding feast at the end, it is impossible not to leave the theatre wreathed in smiles.
English National Ballet: Coppelia
New Theatre, Oxford, October 28-November 1
Box office: Call 0844 871 3040 or visit atgtickets.com/oxford