I must admit, as I wait for the show to begin, I am nervous. My visit to Coppelia is my first time watching a professional ballet and though I used to have a basic grasp of a variety of dance theory, the days in which I could tell anyone the difference between a grand jeté and an echappé are long gone.
Nonetheless, while the complexities of the show are no doubt lost on me, I am entranced from beginning to end. I’d had barely 4 hours’ sleep the previous night and almost fell asleep standing up on a crowded Victoria line train on my journey to the theatre, but from the moment Coppelia begins, it feels as though I barely blink. For the last ten minutes of the show, I can’t stop smiling.
The sounds of clockwork that fill the theatre as audience members file in is somewhat soothing. We are kept company by Ellis Rother’s Little Maisie, who is a picture of sweetness and innocence: braided pigtails and a beautifully designed dress (shout out to Wendy Olver) of lace and frills. Alongside her darling appearance, she whiles away the preset in a flurry of inquisitive mischief. She sticks her tongue out at the audience, taunts members with snacks she has no intention of sharing, and turns any unoccupied seats into her own personal game of musical chairs.
Soon the unending ticktickticktick becomes unnerving, but before we cross the line into ominous the show begins. The music is enticing and magical, like the inside of a music box. The magic is added to as the company (which is much larger than one might anticipate for such a small space) almost endlessly emerges from all corners, like beautiful rhythmic ants after a rainstorm. In the opening scene, there is almost too much to watch, which isn’t necessarily bad, but does make me wish I had a videographic memory so I could rewatch every performer… or maybe just a digital download.
10 minutes into the show, I write down my 5-star rating. An hour and forty minutes later, my intuition is proved correct.
Kevan Allen’s choreography and direction is, to me, faultless. Throughout the entirety of the show there is a BEAUTIFUL blend of dance languages. Allen has created something beyond ballet; a graceful fusion with the bones of ballet but wrapped in the flesh of Dance, with a capital ‘D’. Begging, borrowing, and stealing from all aspects of movement, Allen has birthed something breath-taking.
Not to mention that it is gorgeously performed. Every performer in the show moves with a grace and ease that should be impossible. They are a superhuman force combining the most challenging of physical feats with alluring smiles and palpable personal connection.
This show is also a perfect example of harmonious convergence in performance and scenography: the costumes are intricate; the set, quaint; the music, a textured and complex auditory journey. The creative team deserve a bow of their own.
There is not one single chance I understand the whole show, but I don’t care. And that is the pinnacle of art. I go into the show with no previous knowledge at all of the story of Coppelia, but I follow the narrative being delivered to me with relative ease. Not being a purveyor of professional dance, I am not fluent in the language they speak; but at no point do I feel alienated or unwelcome. Good dance is good storytelling, and Coppelia is told beautifully. Allen proves, with no difficulty whatsoever, that performance can evolve with the times without sacrificing or forgoing tradition.
Coppelia is playing the Cockpit Theatre until 11 September 2021. For tickets and more details, visit the Cockpit’s website.