New Coppelia is fresh and vital

Lucy Green and Jon Trimmer. Imnage Evan Li
RNZB Coppelia. Image Evan Li

The Vodafone Season of Coppelia

Royal New Zealand Ballet
St James Theatre
Until April 26

Then Palmerston North April 30, Invercargill May 4, Dunedin May 8-9, Napier May 16-17,  Rotorua May  21, Takapuna May 24–25, Auckland May 28–31.

With the Royal New Zealand Ballet's latest production of Coppelia the company has shown how it continues to develop, with both its corps de ballet and principals demonstrating assured technical skills and an understanding of dance pracrice. Under the direction of choreographer Martin Vedel, they have created a new version of the ballet which has freshness and vitality.

The ballet is based on a story by the German romantic writer E T A Hoffman, which had a much darker side exploring the grotesque and the bizarre in society and, as with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, was written when the growth of technology appeared to present a threat to society.

While the ballet is a mixture of folk and fairy tale, there are moral and political elements related to tampering with human life as well as notions of conspiracy and a fear of the new and different.

The story of the ballet revolves around Coppelia, a mechanical doll constructed by Dr Coppelius. She is seen from a distance by Swanilda who attempts, unsuccessfully to make friends with her. Swanilda's boyfriend Franz also sees the doll and is captivated by her. Independently the two young people enter Dr Coppelius' house to speak to the doll. Dr Coppelius surprises them, drugs Franz and attempts to transfer the boy's life forces to the doll.

Swanilda has taken the place of Coppelia and dances as though the doll has come to life, much to the initial delight of the doctor, but he is distraught when he discovers the trick and the damage done to his creation.

The ballet ends with the marriage of Swanilda and Franz, the reconciliation of Dr Coppelius, who is paid off with Swanilda's dowry, and everyone engages in happy activities.

The ballet can be seen as something of a metaphor for the creation of ballets in which choreographers attempt to create perfect characters with perfect movements.

Dr Coppelius is the ultimate skilled technician as well as being obsessive and slightly mad, an ideal illustration of the zealous choreographer.

Copplelia is also a ballet about love in its various forms, the romantic love between Swanilda and Franz, the misguided attraction Franz has for the animated Coppelia and the infatuation of Dr Coppelius with his creations

While the Act I setting is  a fairy tale village there are disturbing elements. At one point the village louts attack Dr Coppelius for his perceived difference and in Act II Dr Coppelius seems almost malevolent in his attempts to get Franz drunk.

Lucy Green  as Swanilda combined some beautifully precise dancing in Act I and displayed a  fine comic element when she parodies the mechanical movements of Coppelia in  Act II . Her dancing ranged from the soft movements of the classical through to the energetic dancing of the doll in Act II  and the sumptuous pas de deux of the final act.

Kohei Iwamoto as Franz gave a sustained performance with some dramatic displays in both his duos with Lucy Green  and his  solos..

As Dr Coppelius, Jon Trimmer combined dance, acting and mime skills to convey a complex character. The mix of comic, corruption and liberalism, which are central to the part, were sensitively conveyed without overacting and with an astute use of movement and body language.

Act II, which features Dr Coppelius' automatons, presented a whimsical world of characters including  the newly devised part of Limbless, a figure who looked like a car crash dummy and whose presence hinted at the doctor's ability to create a living but flawed entity. Danced by Paul Mathews, Limbless was a clever mixture of mime and contemporary dance in the midst of the classical.

The corps de ballet's dancing was superb and the intelligent  choreography of many of their sequences provided  them with the opportunity to display an emotional and expressive response to the music.

Joseph Skelton as Zoltan gave a standout performance showing remarkable strength and agility as he exploded across the stage

The Czardas dancers,  led by Abigail Boyle, looking like Hungarian versions of Wonder Woma,n displayed a mixture of macho bravado and a rough sensuality to give the dance a ferocious energy.

The music of Delibes was given a great rendering by Orchestra  Wellington including a sensitive solo violin passage.

John Daly-Peoples has a relative on the board of the RNZB

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