His Majesty’s Theatre, reviewed September 16
The story of Coppélia, having been written in a time gone by, may be a little unrelatable and distanced from our worldview today. However, choreographer Greg Horsman’s adaptation cleverly brings the beloved story closer to home for the modern Australian audience.
The three-act production is set in the South Australian town of Hahndorf in the late 19th century; a slight shift from the original storyline which was set in a Polish village in the late 18th century. In Horsman’s production, an explanation is given for Dr Coppélius’s doll creation: Coppélia is a replica of Dr Coppélius’s daughter who died while migrating to Australia. Dr Coppélius’ backstory is told through the addition of a prologue involving a projected cartoon, a clever way to embellish the storyline without compromising performance time.
As the curtain lifts on Act I, it is clear that great thought has gone into the set (designed by Hugh Colman). With corrugated iron roofs and gumtrees encasing the stage, the set is true to its era and reflective of the early Australian settlement lifestyle. The lighting by Jon Buswell is ever changing to reflect the time of day, and the costumes designed by Noelene Hill (including bonnets, blouses and vests) offer a traditionally folksy feel. Both the lighting and costumes complement the set beautifully.
Horsman’s adaptation preserves much of the original choreography of Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa. However, traditional choreographic highlights are more subtly entwined with the development of the story, making room for other new iconic moments. One moment that stands out from the evening appears in Act I where the town’s local football team returns from a winning game. The footballers incorporate movements of the Czardas into their celebrations as they bounce and handball a football to each other – a skill that is surely not easy to master. The upshot of the scene is entertaining and impressive.
Candice Adea shines as Swanilda. She introduces the character in the Act I variation as cheeky, dramatic and completely charming. Her characterisation is unwavering throughout the performance, despite the demanding choreography that comes with the role. Adea’s strength and control are her greatest assets; she is well-matched for the delightfully stubborn character.
Julio Blanes as Franz is equally charming. As usual, his tours en l'air and fouettés are absolutely faultless and his seamless partnering with Adea allows their story to unfold with ease.
Matthew Lehmann as Dr Coppélius is a true master of storytelling. Lehmann uses his movement and expression to portray the character as a grieving father while still keeping some subtle eccentricity. In combination with the prologue, the character is a satisfying shift from the original.
The friends of Swanilda and Franz have a greater part to play in Horsman’s adaptation, and both Dayana Hardy Acuna as Mary and Mayume Noguromi as Liesl were particularly memorable with their precise technique and animated characterisation. As always, the ensemble work of the WA Ballet is polished and crisp. The Hours Waltz, adapted to a couples dance, is particularly beautiful, with long lines and soft lifts. The entire ensemble should be proud of their teamwork.
Coppélia is best known for its rich musical score by Léo Delibes, and conductor Jessica Gethin certainly rose to the occasion. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra performed the composition (with its iconic leitmotifs) with gusto and vigour.
With only a few modern twists, this adaptation of Coppélia remains true to its traditional core. The show is upbeat, comical and pleasing to both traditionalists and those craving something fresh.
- ALANA KILDEA
All photos above are by Bradbury Photography.
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