Coppélia at ENB

English National Ballet's Coppelia rehearsal

At the end of a season filled with dramatic ballets like Romeo and Juliet, and angst-inducing abstract pieces where the dancers seemed to be carrying the world on their shoulders (sometimes literally!), ENB’s Coppélia came as a breath of fresh air. In the words of the critic Edwin Denby, ‘If Giselle is ballet’s Hamlet, Coppélia is its Twelfth Night’, and on a warm summer evening at the Coliseum, its blend of comedy, character dances and famous classical variations, all accompanied by that wonderful Delibes score, proved irresistible.

Alban Lendorf as Franz and Tamara Rojo as Swanilda in English National Ballet's Coppélia. Photo: © ASH

Alban Lendorf as Franz and Tamara Rojo as Swanilda in English National Ballet’s Coppélia. Photo: © ASH

ENB is reviving its now 30-year-old production by former Royal Ballet dancer Ronald Hynd. He bases his version on Petipa’s, but introduces small changes to provide narrative context. Swanilda is here the Burgomaster’s daughter, and her fiancé Franz has been given more to do in the way of interactions with members of the village and participation in the various character dances. The designs and settings – which seem lifted off a cartoon storybook – are by Desmond Heeley. They are charming in their simplicity and fit well with the sunny palette of the ballet: flowers and colours everywhere, embroidered vests and skirts with hints of Bavaria, Moldova, and everywhere-in-between.

While Swanilda is not a role one would naturally associate with Tamara Rojo – and, in fact, she had not performed it for over ten years – she gives us a truly spunky heroine in this staging. Her jealousy at Franz’s flirting with the doll Coppélia (as well as every other girl in the village) was infused with just the right amount of melodramatic flair, with hints of coquette. She made use of her wonderful arches and beautifully articulated feet during Swanilda’s solos, and to top it off, she even got to play Kitri during the Spanish variation in Act II (you can take the Spaniard out of Spain, but you can’t take Spain out of the Spaniard).

Tamara Rojo as Swanilda and Michael Coleman as Dr. Coppelius  in English National Ballet's Coppélia. Photo: © ASH

Tamara Rojo as Swanilda and Michael Coleman as Dr. Coppelius in English National Ballet’s Coppélia. Photo: © ASH

Danish star Alban Lendorf, making his debut as Franz, truly made something out of a role that is so often overlooked for its relative lack of substance. From the moment he entered, we knew he was best mate to all the boys and loved by all the girls. When he wasn’t dancing, his presence still registered: you could see him exchanging pleasantries with the tavern people, or fooling around with his friends. He reminded me of that other great Dane, and it is interesting to observe how well the role of Franz suits those raised in the Danish tradition. Look no further than Lendorf’s dancing for proof: beautiful and detailed in every movement, at every sharp turn, clean and bouncy jump, with the best use of a plié outside the classroom. If only we could see him more often…

The music, as usual, was top-notch, with conductor Gavin Sunderland giving shape and form to this wonderful score. Other highlights were Michael Coleman’s Dr Coppélius, here more the eccentric inventor than a pure doll-maker, and creator of the Slinky-powered Stephenson’s Rocket, no less! I also admired the perfect comedic timing of Begoña Cao as one of Swanilda’s friends. Alison McWhinney, Laurretta Summerscales and Ksenia Ovsyanick were a well matched trio. With the end of the season starting to take its toll on the dancers, it wasn’t all smooth sailing on Thursday evening, but the energy of ENB’s artists ensured that they did justice to this most charming of classical ballets.

Meanwhile, Alice Pennefather was at the general rehearsal and photographed the double debuts of Shiori Kase & Yonah Acosta, who is now ENB’s newest principal:

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.

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