The Australian Ballet School offers a unique Christmas gift by presenting the beautiful ballet Coppélia as a closing for 2017, reproduced by the Australian Ballet’s initial artistic director Dame Peggy van Praagh.
The modern recreation the original 1979 production of Coppélia is not as dissimilar as you may think. The extravagant sets and costumes have remained its integrity to Kristian Fredrikson’s original design. There is a lovely symmetry having original lighting designer Francis Croese back in the designer chair for the 2017 production. With even greater purpose, the School’s director Lisa Pavane once portrayed the character of Coppélia in 1992, making this performance a cherished one by many staff members.
The original production directed by George Oglivie had its roots in mischief and magic, creating a dark mystery around the eccentric toy maker’s home. The 2017 rendition is similar with the ominous lighting and special effects such as puffs of smoke and small explosions. The Australian Ballet School utilises artistic staff member Simon Dow to play the almost Grinch-like Dr Coppelius. He shares a special fatherly love toward his wooden doll Coppélia, hoping she can awaken from the doll exterior he once crafted her to be. Franz, a spirited boy infatuated by Coppélia’s presence on the balcony of the toy maker’s home, sneaks into the house and attempts to become acquainted with her. Swanilda—Franz’s eventual wife, steals Dr Coppelius’ key to his home and sneaks her friends in to see what is so intriguing about Coppélia. To their surprise, they discover Coppélia is a wooden doll, perched on the balcony reading a book and unresponsive. As Dr Coppelius returns home to find his house trespassed, Swanilda disguises herself as Coppélia and dances to appease his wishes of her coming to life. Meanwhile, Franz is caught sneaking around the house by Dr Coppelius, whom drugs Franz in attempt to turn him into a doll. Dr Coppelius is unsuccessful as the female protagonist Swanilda saves Franz and escape together.
The dancing is almost secondary to the acting in this production. George Oglivie and Dame Peggy van Praagh’s vision was to enable each ballet dancer the opportunity to fully become immersed in the character they play. It was about pairing movement with mime without being overt. The mime captured by the 2017 dancers of the School shows excellent and genuine qualities. The audience particularly enjoys the scene where Swanilda discovers Coppélia is a doll and tries many times to get her attention. She is comical in her approach and her mime is completely understood in a realistic manner. More than this, her execution of her solo dances is very strong, maintaining great turn out and fluidity of movements during her petit allegro.
A common trait in the original choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon’s work is the presence of folk and national dance. In the chorus sections performed by the level five students and younger are derived from national dance, wearing olive chorus shoes to click and stamp their feet in partner sections. The detail of the choreography is intricate and detailed, and of course repetitive, however it appears the additional choreography is necessary to measure up to this year’s talented students. Franz’s grand allegro is quite substantial with en tournant and turning jeté combinations. All leads carry their weight in the production with a only few wobbles and pas de deux drops.
Australian Ballet Artistic Director David McAllister AM in the audience watches on with delight. He played the role of Franz as his first principal role with AB, reminding multiple staff members and former artists of their time on stage during this production. It is certainly a pleasing performance by the Australian Ballet School and all involved should be proud. Another chapter closed.