Coppelia is a comic ballet first performed in Paris in 1870, enjoying great success until the run was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and siege of Paris, which ultimately led to the tragic death of the show’s star, 17-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi. Eventually though, it was to become a huge triumph and has since been performed all over the world.
The My First Ballet series, created by the English National Ballet and performed by its school for children, has already produced versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. These are two of the most popular stories ever told so how well does a lesser known tale about a mechanical doll and an eccentric toymaker fare?
A graduate of the ENB School himself, director and choreographer George Williamson has done a tremendous job at producing a child friendly version of Ronald Hynd’s original production. The dancers are almost as professional as if they were on the stage at the Royal Opera House or Coliseum – with a few mild but forgettable wobbles, and the interaction with the audience, which is arguably the most important factor here, is really great to see.
Michael Coleman’s Narrator and Dr Coppelius leads us through the story and ensures the audience (some of whom were very young) are constantly stimulated and aware of more than just the pretty dresses. The young principals glide beautifully across the stage but Swanilda goes above and beyond to create a fully well-rounded and impressive character.
Most wonderful is the set design by Louie Whitemore who has worked on numerous professional productions. The two set changes are perhaps not particularly effortless but what she has achieved in terms of grandeur and breathtaking beauty is very impressive. Coppelius’s toy room mixes gothic terror with other-world wonder without being too much for the kiddies.
There were some technical glitches that could have been easily avoided, but overall the concluding part to the My First Ballet series is a beautiful one. I’m much older than the target audience and yet I very much enjoyed and can appreciate that this would be great to watch for anyone seeing their first ballet.
My First Ballet: Coppelia is playing at the Peacock theatre until 19 April before touring the UK. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells Theatre website.