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Production

Coppélia

Company

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

Reviewer

Stephanie Burridge

Date

09/10/2008

Time

8.00pm

Place

Esplanade Theatre

Rating

****

Guy and Doll

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève's version of Coppélia is a rollicking, witty and surreal interpretation of the original 1870 ballet. Full of imagination and fun, it walks a fine line between sheer comic fantasy and a step into the psychotic dark side of desire and obsession. Integrating fabulous design, video and text, Cisno Aznar's characters emerge from the original ballet that tells the tale of the eccentric Dr Coppelius and his Frankensteinish puppet doll creation, Coppélia.

In fact, he delves so deeply into the literal essence of the narrative that at times the ballet gets bogged down with complex symbolism and iconography. It thus took a while to wade through this before arriving at some dance, set to a score that incorporated the ballet's original music by Delibes. Some sections were rap-style; others used jive movements from the 1950s, while familiar ballet steps could be seen in other parts.

The opening game-show dance competition set the tone for an entertaining, contemporary take on the old story. The first prize, won by Franz and his lover Swanhilda, was a house full of items that they could have only when they named their wedding day. Enter an overbearing mother/mother-in-law, groups of cleaners, a crow shooter (I am not sure if this was added for the Singapore performances but it certainly drew some laughs) and some lustful young men.

The black-and-white costumes by Luis Lara were brilliant and set the minimalist palette for the first half of the show, including black-and-white projections and animation that occurred on screens behind and, at times, in front of the dancers. There was lots of slapstick and bitter sweet humour as Franz falls deeply in love with Coppélia. Suspended above the stage in a gilded cage, she was the only spot of colour on stage with her flaming red hair and dress. Providing more contrast in colour was a very funny projection of a rickshaw chase, featuring a smiling geisha playing a barrel organ.

Act two exploded onto the stage with red velvet curtains, a pink wedding cake and a poignant film to relate the childhood of the mad scientist. This short video projection could have found a place in an art-house film festival and it explored the soul of the young inventor and his obsession with his dolls. On stage, the plot thickened as Franz entered Dr Coppélius's house and found himself among the puppets - dancing eyeballs and yapping dogs. It was an opportunity for the traditional dance of the dolls from the original ballet, which featured robotic movements, to be performed.

The final scenes show Coppélia released from enslavement to Dr Coppélius and transformed into the woman of Franz's dreams - they marry and claim the dance competition prize. Grant Aris was outstanding as Dr Coppélius. His long-limbed physique embodied the character, and his interpretation of the role was so intense that even during the curtain call, he seemed unable to free himself from the character.

Although I am still pondering if the first half, which felt too long and over-literal, was even necessary, I left the theatre elated by such an entertaining dance performance. Singapore does not get to see enough dance theatre that has complex imagery and a cohesive melding of dance, performance, design and entertainment. It was a great night out at the theatre.

First Impression

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève's version of Coppélia is a rollicking, witty and surreal interpretation of the original 1870 ballet. Full of imagination and fun, it walks a fine line between sheer comic fantasy and a psychotic dark side of desire and obsession. Integrating fabulous design, video and text, the ballet tells the tale of the eccentric Doctor Coppelius and his Frankensteinish puppet doll creation, Coppélia. However, choreographer Cisco Aznar delves so deeply into the literal essence of the narrative that at times the ballet becomes bogged down in its symbolism and iconography - and it takes a while to wade through this to arrive at some dance. When the dance arrives, it is varied and interesting, with the ballet's original music by Delibes being interpreted in diverse ways - some sections are hip hop style and others use 50's jive movements, while some phrases incorporate the familiar vocabulary of the ballet: grande jetés and pirouettes.


"Coppélia walks a fine line between sheer comic fantasy and a step into the psychotic dark side of desire and obsession"

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

More Reviews by Stephanie Burridge

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