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Production

Coppélia

Company

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

Reviewer

Deborah Keh

Date

09/10/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

Esplanade theatre

Rating

No rating given

Coppélia Comes to Life

It seems that modern-day ballets (as opposed to contemporary ballet pieces) are developing into dansicals if Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands and Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève's Coppélia are anything to judge by.

Coppélia, recently performed at the Esplanade theatre, was a visual extravaganza combining vibrantly surrealistic costumes (such as giant dancing eyeballs in tutus), fantastic sets and video footage to delineate a plot and provide characterisation. This was annoying for some die-hard ballet fans who complained of too little dancing and too much video and acting. Others averred that all the best of Léo Delibes' score was wasted in the first section, a pseudo-fifties dance competition a la American Bandstand. However, despite a few clichéd dance combinations, I found it a highly entertaining and well-crafted production.

The overall feel and pacing of the show took a novel approach. The video segments were well scripted, giving Dr Coppélius a backstory where he had endured a childhood in which his predilection for playing with dolls was repressed by his parents and ridiculed by his peers. This painted him as a sympathetic figure with strong emotions rather than the doddering fool seen in traditional programmes.

This characterisation was enhanced by Grant Aris' comic and endearing performance. His walk alone spoke of how Coppelius' eccentric personality covers up the heart of a little boy yearning to be accepted - and all this could be clearly seen even through the ping-pong sized eyeballs that he had to wear as the Doctor and the larger-than-life expressions he contorted his face into to match them.

Catalan choreographer Cisco Aznar's strength lay in his direction rather than his movement creation. The movement vocabulary, though competently executed, was generally uninspired and not particularly original.

The dancing consisted mainly of fun but generic group pieces, a memorable section showed the lust (complete with wittily placed hip thrusts) that the corps of working-class men had for the doll, Coppélia, suspended above them in a giant birdcage. Sadly, the usually playful pas de deux between the young lovers, Franz and Swanilda, fell flat, taking on an overly serious tone. This, combined with the fact that in this libretto Coppélia (like Pinocchio before her) actually becomes a real person, allowed Cécile Robin Prévallée to steal the show with her heartfelt rendering of a doll who opens her eyes for the first time in wonderment at her own body.

Where Coppélia commonly ends with a joyful wedding scene and the happy couple of Franz and Swanilda united as if Coppélia had never entered their lives, Aznar's rendition had the stony-faced couple standing as if atop a wedding cake holding masks of fake paper smiles up to their faces. According to Artistic Director Philippe Cohen, Aznar had originally intended for Coppélia to run off with Franz, leaving Dr Coppélius alone. However, since this piece was originally created for the Christmas period, he changed his mind. As it is, the ending slightly depressing, though wholly appropriate.


"Catalan choreographer Cisco Aznar's strength lay in his direction rather than his movement creation."

Credits

Artistic Director: Philippe Cohen

Choreography and Sound Creation: Cisco Aznar

Sets and Costumes: Luis Lara

Principal Dancer: Grant Aris (Dr Coppélius)

Music: Léo Delibes

Lighting Designer: Samuel Marchina

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.