It’s a bit of a cop out, I freely admit, but when people ask the dreaded question of ‘what’s your favourite ballet’ I instinctively will answer with Swan Lake. I suspect that this is largely because I don’t want to get myself into the (mostly internal) debate of full length vs short work vs classic vs contemporary-esque vs whatever else. If I categorise ballets I have a dozen favourites. And the thing is, every time I go and revisit the Lake I do often wonder why I put it right up there at the top. I think mostly it’s to do with the fact that I remember exactly how it made me feel at the end of the first Swan Lake I ever saw (for reference it was English National Ballet at the Coliseum in January 2008), that moment where Odette knows that the only way to break von Rothbart’s (aka my future husband who is not Robin Cousins) spell is to die and she throws herself into t he lake and Siegfried follows her. It was a sharp intake of breath, heart in throat moment. I was heartbroken, this was what ballet could do.
The thing is, I think if I really consider it on the full length story ballet front, Swan Lake would probably be edged out by La Fille Mal Gardée and Coppélia. The thing those two ballets have in common are that they are purely happy making ballets that you can’t help but smile the whole way through. Also they just so happen to have been the last two full length-ers I’ve seen performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet.
After the triumphant Spring Passions and my new found respect for pigeons in the ballet world, it was a return visit for Coppélia last night. I first saw Coppélia as a child on a school trip to Manchester so I assume I was saw the Northern Ballet but I could be wrong and, sadly, I hacked up my programme for my dancer badge scrapbook at Brownies and the scrapbook has been lost to the great recycling bin in the sky. I remember being completely captivated by it though to the point that when I started going to watch ballet as an adult it was always at the top of my wish list of ballets I wanted to see. A couple of years ago I completely lucked out and saw the Bolshoi’s production with none other than Natalia Osipova in the role of Swanhilda. Ask me now and I couldn’t tell you much about the ballet but I could tell you everything about just exactly how much I fell in love with Osipova that evening.
Anecdotes aside, overall I am hugely in love with BRB’s production. Sumptuous doesn’t even begin to describe it. The sets are yummy with their sort of ‘other worldly’ charm to them. The dancing is neat, light and just altogether there. The costumes are all gorgeous. And the music. I adore Delibes’ score, it’s one I could listen to over and over again. Like his score for Sylvia, there’s something just that little bit ‘out of this world’ about it, a little bit magical and it matches the story of Coppélia perfectly. Within seconds of the overture starting, I was in love. I was the enthralled child I’d been all those years ago on the school trip, anxiously hovering on the edge of my seat, peering, straining to see what was going on everywhere on stage all at once.
I’d half thought nobody could match Osipova as Swanhilda, that I’d been ruined forever by seeing her dance the role. Not so, Nao Sakuma brought her own charm and stamp to the role – move over Osipova and let someone share your Swanhilda crown. Sakuma’s Swanhilda is flirty and worldly, she knows exactly what she’s doing and you find yourself cheering her on as she does so. Chi Cao (fresh from the night before’s triumph with his pigeons) is Franz, a bit hapless, a bit of a wide boy but, you know what, you can’t help but not love him either. If nothing else you know they’ll make each other happy at the end of it all.
My particular stand out favourite parts of the whole ballet are the first act’s mazurka and czardas although I freely admit that’s more to do with the music than anything else but it’s one of those ballets where it’s the whole that matters rather than the individual parts. There isn’t a dull moment in Coppélia¸there isn’t a moment where my attention is wandering to more earthly matters and the whole thing flows beautifully from one part to the next. It’s got a good strong core of a plot (in Acts 1 and 2 anyway, Act 3 is all about the divertissements) that’s easy to follow because it’s clear in the acting and dancing exactly what’s going on. And, you know, much as I loved Osipovathe Bolshoi’s production, if I’m going to start a sliding scale of Coppélia joy I’m going to put BRB’s production right up there at the top and tell you all to go and see it as a matter of urgency. I defy you not to leave the production with a spring in your step and the most ridiculous grin on your face.
(Images via the google machine, click for links)