Left - Leanne Stojmenov and Damien Welch. Photo - Branco Gaica
The 2010 Australian Ballet season is a tribute to founding artistic director, Dame Peggy Van Praagh whose legacy lives on in much of the company’s repertoire. With direction by George Ogilvie and design by Kristian Fredrikson, this version of Coppelia premiered in 1979 and was Van Praagh’s last production for The Australian Ballet.
Originally debuted in 1870 at the Paris Opera, Coppelia is a well-worn story ballet in the romantic ballet tradition. It’s set within harvest celebrations of a village that is unsettled by the presence of one of its inhabitants, the mysterious alchemist Dr. Coppelius and his doll-like daughter. Like many ballets, it concludes with a wedding party that creates the opportunity for several specialty dances and a pas de deux. It doesn’t have quite the dramatic tension of a Giselle or a Manon or a Swan Lake, but it does have lots of tricky footwork, some familiar dance sequences and lots of mime. It’s pretty to look at, but not particularly edgy or fresh.
The challenge for The Australian Ballet in a season like this is not reinvention or reinterpretation, but to portray its characters well, imbue it with energy and nail the difficult technique. On the whole, the company rose to the task on Friday night with Miwako Kubota and Ty King-Wall in the principal roles of Swanilda and Franz, the young engaged couple. Technically, the dancing was confident, especially from the leads – but was occasionally let down by not enough precision from the mime.
Act I and III are village scenes, light on action but chock full of formulaic character dances, wedding solos and a pas de deux. The Dawn solo of Act III danced by Leanne Stojmenov was a highlight as was Kubota and King-Wall’s spritely pas de deux.
More interesting thematically and choreographically is Act II, set in Dr. Coppelius’s spooky workshop where human- size dolls come to life. Some of the choreography is actually quite modern for its time. Even though its doll characters are broad brushstrokes, it presents a wider physical vocabulary than most 19th century ballet. Recently retired principal dancer Damien Welch plays aged Dr. Coppelius and while he’s a few decades short of being aged, he pulls it off with light-hearted menace. Oddly though, he takes his curtain call at the end of Act II (he doesn’t appear in Act III), creating a choppiness to proceedings and highlights Coppelia’s lack of narrative cohesion.
Despite feeling old-fashioned and familiar, this Coppelia is a competent restaging of a 30 year old production and Kristian Fredrikson’s set and costume designs are still lush and attractive. Friday night’s audience of mainly older subscribers and young ballerinas were not disappointed. But those looking for a contemporary offering from The Australian Ballet would do better to wait for a more challenging season.
Australian Ballet presents
10 – 22 June, 2010
the Arts Centre, State Theatre
with Orchestra Victoria
Bookings: australianballet.com.au or 1300 369 741
4 – 22 May, 2010
Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra