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The Latvian National Ballet


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#1 colwill

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 07:37 AM

The Latvian National Opera Ballet Company (also known as the Riga Ballet) is visiting the Lowry Centre, Salford to dance Coppelia and La Sylphide this week. I attended a performance of Coppelia on April 2nd. This is a company I had never previously watched and since the visit to the Lowry is the only UK venue I looked forward to the performance with great interest. I was not disappointed.

I thought it would be of interest to give some background of the company, courtesy of the programme. The company dates back to the latter part of the 18th century when visiting dancers worked at the Riga German Theatre. The professional ballet developed in 1919 as part of the National Opera. In 1922 Mariinsky ballet master Nikolai Sergeyev began teaching in Riga and eventually under Alexandra Fyodorova the ballet productions became a distinctive, integral part of the National Opera Company. The company lapsed during the 1939-45 war but later regrouped to become a successful international company. Such well-known stars as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alexander Godunov and Maris Liepa all began their formal dance training in Riga.

The principle dancers for Coppelia were:

SWANILDA Julia Gurvica
FRANZ Alexei Avechkin
Dr COPPELIUS Ignats Ancans
DOLL/COPPELIA Zane Teikmane
TRAMPS Intars Kleinhofs, Kiril Burlov
SWANILDA’S FRIENDS Viktorija Jansone, Margarita Demjanoka

Prior to the performance the audience stood whilst the Orchestra played the National Anthem in respect for the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The ballet follows the story of Coppelia fairly well but the choreography by Aivars Leimanis is unlike any other Coppelia I have watched. The setting is a Latvian town square and the costumes represent that countries national dress whilst the ensemble dancing was more on the lines of country dancing than classical ballet. I must say I was most impressed by the standard of the dancing and the quality of the mime actions.

On Act 1 curtain up the stage was bare except for the two tramps asleep on the ground. Following a sequence of dance/clowning by the tramps the house door opens and Coppelia enters to perform a solo dance, immediately portraying a classic but simplified style of dance. Franz then appears and also dances a solo during which time he sees the doll Copellia and is entranced with her. Enter the corps de ballet dancing a folk dance. The rest of the act follows along the conventional lines.

Act two, set in Dr Coppelius workshop, where only two of the animated dances take place, a very dashing Scottish dance and a rousing Spanish ‘flamenco’ dance by both the doll and a male partner. When Coppelia, alias Swanilda, is brought out the usual performance ensues except that no attempt is made to transfer Franz’s life and spirit into the ‘doll’. An unusual point is the large dancing role given to Dr Coppelius.

Act three lacks the usual dances for Dawn, Prayer, Peace and Work. The male dancers, dressed in national costumes incorporating ankle length white skirts, danced the Call to Arms. The tramps performed a wonderful, explosive, almost acrobatic dance prior to the entrance of Swanhilda and Franz who danced an exquisite pas de deux.

I have dwelled on the format since this is important to appraise the dancing. It was a most unusual style, lacking the speed and fire of say, the Kirov, but providing a more relaxed dancing (except for the tramps) that I found intriguing. The standard of the performance as a whole was excellent and I would recommend this company for a rewarding evening.

Finally the Latvian National Opera and Ballet Orchestra were superb, rendering the Delibes music with great delicacy with the correct mix of strings and brass, often overlooked by more well known orchestras.

#2 Ari

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 10:52 AM

Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report, colwill. It's interesting that the company has replaced some of the classical dancing and mime with character and folk dancing. Is there a strong tradition of such dancing in Latvia, do you know?

#3 Veronica

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 11:48 AM

Being Latvian and Lithuanian myself, I was happy to read about the Latvian ballet. And yes, there is a great interest amongst us Balts (and always has been) re: ballet, opera, folk dance and art-esp. the old folk songs and dances of the regions. I hop that some of these co. get out to CA some day so that I can show my daughter from wenst(?) she comes.


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