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Print Version
Credit: Evan Li
Credit: Evan Li
Southland Festival of the Arts 2014
Staged by Martin Vedel
Danced by The Royal NZ Ballet
Set & costumes by Kristian Fredrikson

at Civic Theatre, Invercargill
4 May 2014
[2 hrs]

Reviewed by Kasey Dewar, 5 May 2014

A cool, rainy Invercargill Sunday evening provided the perfect opportunity to head along to the cosy Civic Theatre and get lost in the Hungarian countryside for a few hours.

Coppelia was first staged in Paris in 1870. The Royal New Zealand Ballet has presented full or part versions of Coppélia eleven times since it first premiered in 1955. That first version was choreographed by Harald Lander and incorporated hints of the Danish homeland of the company's founder Poul Gnatt in the design of the ballet. This latest version has been choreographed by Martin Vedel, another Dane who has created a ballet reasonably close to the original story with a few elements added in to bring it in to the present day.

The first act sets the scene for the ballet and introduces the main characters. We are allowed a brief glimpse of the recluse Dr Coppelius before the village scene is presented. There is a nice contrast between the playful and teasing Swanhilda and her beau Franz (danced by Bronte Kelly and Rory Fairweather-Neylan)and& their friends the loving and romantic Ima and Zoltan (danced by Katherine Grange and Joseph Skelton). Kelly and Fairweather-Neylan do a great job of conveying the fun-loving relationship between the two main characters, while Grange and Skelton almost steal the show showing us a convincing loving couple. We get a brief introduction to Coppelia as she sits on Dr Coppelius' balcony appearing to read a book. The end of this village scene is great – the music and action builds & there are some pretty cool lifts and solos that cause a decent round of applause from the audience.

Paul Mathews as Dr Coppelius is wonderful – his frantic hand actions as he tries to explain to the villagers his automaton creations are perfect for the character. Unfortunately this explanation falls on deaf ears and he ends up getting beaten up by the men of the village. While all this is happening Swanhilda and her friends sneak into his house followed by Franz who has decided he likes the look of Coppelia.

The beginning of the second act is just as it should be – the lights brighten to show a large, ornate room inside Dr Coppelius' house with beautifully costumed automatons scattered around. The set and costumes have been borrowed from the Australian Ballet where they were first used in 1979 and they provide a rich background for this scene. Swanhilda and her friends are nervous initially as they sneak around Dr Coppelius' house, but their fears cease when they realise Coppelia is a doll. Dr Coppelius manages to shoo most of them away, except for Swanhilda who hides behind Coppelia and steals her costume. Suddenly the cheeky element is back again as Swanhilda pretends to be Coppelia & convinces Dr Coppelius he has brought her to life – beginning to dance jerkily as a doll would before becoming a “real girl” and elegantly dancing all of the styles Dr Coppelius requests of her. Kelly does this beautifully – shifting effortlessly between the sharp, jerky moves of doll-Coppelia to the gracefulness of real-Coppelia.

Eventually Swanhilda manages to shake Franz from his drunken stupor (after sneaking into the house he has a drinking session with Dr Coppelius and remains passed out for most of the scene) and they escape back to the village. This scene has a great impact – its effect is easily seen at the interval as a giggling group of young girls from the audience mimick Coppélia's transformation from a doll to a real girl.

The third act brings a nice close to the ballet. After Swanilda and Franz apologise to Dr Coppelius, they are married and celebrate with their fellow villagers. There are some nice solos and duets here – especially from Tonia Looker (a friend of Swanhilda and Franz), and again from Grange and Skelton. Kelly and Fairweather-Neylan do a nice job of showing off, while Swanhilda and Franz are both rather mischievous; they are in love during their duet. There also has to be a mention for the townspeople who provide a great background for the main dancers and perform their pieces with great timing.

Coppelia is certainly a show worth seeing. There is touch of 2014 within a production that revitalises a well-worn ballet – it keeps enough of the history to make it familiar (the sets and the costumes) with some nice little touches that can only come from the present day (the addition of the limbless character in Dr Coppelius' house) As always the applause from the audience is a good indicator of a great show, and judging from the large amount throughout the performance, it was well received in the deep south.


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