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!), ENBâ€™s CoppÃ©lia came as a breath of fresh air. In the words of the critic Edwin Denby, â€˜If Giselle is balletâ€™s Hamlet, CoppÃ©lia is its Twelfth Nightâ€™, 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.
ENB is reviving its now 30-year-old production by former Royal Ballet dancer Ronald Hynd. He bases his version on Petipaâ€™s, but introduces small changes to provide narrative context. Swanilda is here the Burgomasterâ€™s daughter, and her fiancÃ© 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 â€“ 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 â€“ she gives us a truly spunky heroine in this staging. Her jealousy at Franzâ€™s flirting with the doll CoppÃ©lia (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 Swanildaâ€™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 canâ€™t take Spain out of the Spaniard).
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 wasnâ€™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 Lendorfâ€™s dancing for proof: beautiful and detailed in every movement, at every sharp turn, clean and bouncy jump, with the best use of a pliÃ© outside the classroom. If only we could see him more oftenâ€¦
The music, as usual, was top-notch, with conductor Gavin Sunderland giving shape and form to this wonderful score. Other highlights were Michael Colemanâ€™s Dr CoppÃ©lius, here more the eccentric inventor than a pure doll-maker, and creator of the Slinky-powered Stephensonâ€™s Rocket, no less! I also admired the perfect comedic timing of BegoÃ±a Cao as one of Swanildaâ€™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 wasnâ€™t all smooth sailing on Thursday evening, but the energy of ENBâ€™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 ENBâ€™s newest principal: