Vienna Festival Ballet’s Coppelia Abounds in the Feel-Good Factor

29/09/2012

 Delibes, Coppelia: Vienna Festival Ballet, The Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham, 27.9.2012 (RJ)

Corps de Ballet:

Swanhilda: Olga Petiteau
Franz Francesco: Bruni
Dr Coppelius: Fraser Gatterell
Coppelia Doll: Emily Hufton
Spanish Doll: Arianna Pisano
Arabian Doll: Eloïse Hymas
Chinese Doll :Annette Antal
Scottish Dolls: Sophie Stanton, Riccardo Pereira
L’Aurore: Melania Gamarro
La Prière: Tamara Ledermann
with Jodie McKnight, Emily-Joy Smith, Yuko Tanaka, Samantha Bosshardt, Miguel Piquier

Production:

Choreographer: Christopher Lee Wright
Ballet Mistress :Emily Hufton
Costume Design: Esperanza Carmona
Lighting Design: Alex Antonis, Kip Barrs

Coppelia Vienna Festival Ballet. Photo Credit:VFB

While I have always admired the initiative of small ballet companies in taking their productions to all parts of the United Kingdom, I have always gone away from such performances feeling disappointed. To my mind ballet needs to be glamorous, on a grand scale and accompanied by a decent sized orchestra, no matter how good the dancing is, and only the large subsidised companies can offer this – or so I thought.

Now after seeing the Vienna Festival Ballet in action in Coppelia I am having to eat my words. It’s true the company comprises a mere fifteen dancers, but they are a versatile, hardworking team, with each one taking on a multiplicity of roles, and there were times when one felt that the ensemble was far larger than it really is. Moreover, its members all look so incredibly young and chirpy – just as Franz, Swanhilde and their friends are supposed to be.

I should perhaps point out that Vienna Festival Opera is not particularly Viennese, even though its founder and artistic director, Peter Mallek, hails from Vienna. Indeed, the dancers are drawn from a number of countries – France, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal and Spain, as well as Britain – so they are a cosmopolitan group, and their tours over the past 32 years have taken them to Africa and the Middle East as well as several European countries.

The story of Coppelia, based on two stories by E T A Hoffmann is a simple one. Franz, becomes infatuated to a girl sitting in the window of Dr Coppelius’ house (who is actually a mechanical doll) – much to the fury of Swanhilde, his betrothed. The young villagers break into the Doctor’s workroom, where Coppelius captures Franz and drugs him in a bid to use his spirit to bring his doll to life, but Swanhilde dresses up as Coppelia and reclaims her lover in time for their scheduled wedding.

VFB-Coppelia Press Image: VFB

Olga Petiteau is a delightfully bubbly and mischievous Swanhilde who gives Franz a hard time when she catches him glancing up at Coppelia. Her courage almost fails her when her friends goad her on to touch the doll, but once she discovers it isn’t real she leads Dr Coppelius a merry dance around his workshop. In the third act she is transformed into a radiant bride performing her pirouettes and pas de deux with effortless grace.

She was well matched by Francesco Bruni in the role of Franz, whose actions were both clear and expressive and whose dancing was natural and unforced, especially in his mighty leaps and pirouettes towards the end. There was some strong athletic dancing from Spaniard Miguel Piquier and Ricardo Pereiro from Portugal, yet it was not in the least ungainly but full of grace and poise.

The fourth man of the company, Fraser Gaterell, was not called on to demonstrate his dancing skills much, but he did make a convincing Dr Coppelius imbuing the role of the crazed doll-maker with plenty of character and humour. I was also impressed by the ability of the dancers playing the dolls, such as Arianna Pisano and Annette Antal, to remain stock still despite the provocations of Swanhilde and her gang. The only drawback to this act was that the doctor’s workshop lacked atmosphere; it needed to be gloomier, more cluttered and claustrophobic. However the dolls’ costumes were splendid, as were Esperanza Carmona’s designs thoughout.

The most important aspect of Coppelia is the dancing and the music. The latter was recorded (by an unnamed conductor), but this didn’t disturb me as much as I expected. Indeed it was such a pleasure to rediscover the richness and variety of Delibes’ score which incorporates for the first time in a ballet folk dances like the Polish mazurka and the Hungarian czárdás. The quality of the music was reflected in the polish and exuberance of the dancers; the feel-good factor was very much in evidence.

Everyone had a change of costume for the wedding in Act Three, the pale lime-green dresses of the corps de ballet being particularly attractive. Skilful lighting set the Dance of the Hours against a pre-dawn mist which was dissipated by Aurora (elegantly danced by Melania Gamorro) and followed by Tamara Ledermann’s slow and reflective Prayer. The display of virtuoso dancing by the principals as part of the wedding festivities was stunning and the performance ended on a high note with a rousing galop.

This is the time of year (in Britain, at least) when the nights start to draw in and the weather turns chilly. All the more reason to seek out this cheerful, vibrant, colourful production of Coppelia to dispel the gloom and lift one’s spirits.

Vienna Festival Ballet is touring Coppelia to the following towns this autumn: (October 2012) Cwmbran, Telford, Evesham, St Helens, Sevenoaks, Weston super Mare, Melton Mowbray, Taunton, Hayes, Cromer, Blackburn, Colwyn Bay, Wrexham, Radlett, Clacton on Sea, Swanage, Bracknell, Bromsgrove, Margate, Rickmansworth; (November 2012) Bedworth, Folkestone, Torquay, Rotherham, St Neots, East Grinstead, Worthing, Newport, Maidstone, Lichfield, Sheffield, Grimsby. www.viennafestivalballet.com.

Roger Jones

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