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SUMPTUOUS SENTIMENTALISM

Print Version
Credit: Evan Li
Credit: Evan Li
Coppelia
Staged by Martin Vedel
Danced by The Royal NZ Ballet
Set & costumes by Kristian Fredrikson

at St James Theatre, Wellington
From 17 Apr 2014 to 26 Apr 2014
[2 hrs]

Reviewed by Deirdre Tarrant, 19 Apr 2014


Sumptuous costumes and staging borrowed from the Australian Ballet, beautiful lighting by Jason Morphett, and excellent playing of the well-known Delibes score by the Wellington Orchestra conducted by Nigel Gaynor, all join artistic forces to set the stage for this production.

A balletomane's firm favourite, with a story that everyone knows, this is a light hearted and enjoyable evening at the ballet. The soft colour palette of long tutus and flowery headdresses work well, and it is a treat to revisit the designs of the late Kristian Fredrickson, a New Zealander who made such costume magic in his international career.

The company has many ensemble pieces and are in exuberant mood and strong. The opening act Czardas in particular fills the stage with Hungarian élan. The Townspeople and leads have some stunning  lifts in Act 1. The key roles are well cast to tell the story with Sir Jon Trimmer an entertaining and irrepressible Dr Coppelius.

Ballet Master and Choreographer Martin Vedel states in the programme that he wants to give the ballet a 2014 slant, however, the addition of an automaton/artist's  model named 'Limbless' in the toy shop is the only significant change, and this role is interestingly played (improvised?) by Paul Mathews who has a wonderful time and a great sense of timing ! A rather more sinister element to the village boys as they attack Dr Coppelius is also part of this 'modern-ising' but on a stage of pastel coloured traditional Hungarian costumes there is little significant change overall to the sentimentalism and traditional expectations of this ballet. 

The variations and solos in Act 3 at the wedding do not really reference the traditional ballet vocabulary that is part of every dancer's repertoire training, and this is a pity as I suspect the dancers would have relished the challenges. That said, and perhaps it is churlish not to be totally swept away by the dancing regardless of the steps, the classical choreography was danced with precision and authority.

Lucy Green in the lead role of Swanhilda is sweet, mischievous and very true to the traditional role. Her clarity and dynamic range need to mature to give that charismatic star quality but she is developing well and particularly shines both technically and dramatically in the opening act where her love for Franz is tested. Katherine Grange and Joseph Skelton stand out throughout and Kohei Iwamoto is a scintillating and convincing Franz, performing with  good contrasting qualities with technical bravadura in the virtuosity sections and boyish larrikinism when required to climb  through windows and wind up dolls!

The dolls are larger than life and have extremely limited mobility- a pity as dancing dolls would add a breadth of style and more intricate vocabulary to Act 2.

Coppelia is setting off on a national tour and is an evening of colour, fun and classical dancing. It tells a romantic story that resonates as well today as it has over this ballet's long history since first being performed in 1870. Drawing on the traditional versions by Arthur St Leon and more famously Marius Petipa this version for our own Royal New Zealand Ballet by Martin Vedel in 2014 - almost 144 years later to the day - deserves great audiences. Find out when it is coming to you and go see it!

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