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Birmingham Royal Ballet's Coppelia

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What a fun ballet Coppelia is when danced by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. It is a couple of years since I last saw the BRB and I have no doubt that they are a classier act than my last sight of them. The performance at the Lowry in Salford last week saw Swanilda danced by Nao Sakuma, Franz by Robert Parker and Dr Coppelius by Michael O’Hare well supported by the rest of the company.

Nao Sakuma is very petite and shows the precision in her steps the we have become accustomed to from Japanese dancers but I felt that she was not entirely at home in the role of Swanilda. Her dancing was everything one could ask, particularly in the final act pas de deux.

Robert Parker was a handsome Franz, somewhat over acting the mime but then it was generally overplayed is if the audience needed it explaining in the form of this is a beautiful face and this is……………(maybe this is a little harsh on the general audience). His dancing was strong but he did have problems with his landings which were somewhat hit and miss.

Michael O’Hare was a wonderful Dr Copelius blending the character and the mime to perfection. The second act when he ‘brought to life’ his beloved doll was both played with hope and tinged with sadness but never the less he was the master of the comic situation.

I was particularly pleased to see Monica Zamora dance the Gypsy. She has long been a favourite dancer of mine and I was afraid she had left the company. She danced with her usual energy and filled the role, albeit small, in an admirable way. It is sad when one’s favourite dancers come to the end of their careers and just disappear without trace.

The corps de ballet were especially good, well up to the Royal Ballet standards, and danced with just the right amount of panache as required for Coppelia. They were particularly enjoyable in Act one. Finally the orchestra played the delightful music of Delibes to perfection, rarely have I heard it performed so well. It was a most enjoyable evening and well received by the audience.

My next visit to the Lowry will be to watch the Kirov dance Swan Lake and La Bayadere in late April when I hope to describe their performance

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Birmingham Royal Ballet are performing Coppelia again this summer at The Lowry, in Birmingham and in Dublin. We have been treated to some excerpts during the midscale tour and Carole-Ann Miller was outstanding! I can't wait.....

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BRB were at the Lowry last week for six performances of Sir Peter Wright’s Coppelia. It is a lavish production with gorgeous designs by Peter Farmer. Sir Peter Wright made this production in his final season as Director of BRB in the Spring of 1995 and it still comes up as fresh as a daisy. He has a wonderful knack of producing the classics with respect but keeping them sparkling (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker for BRB also spring to mind).

Sir Peter was at the opening performance on Wednesday evening and I believe the company did him proud not only that evening but throughout the week.

The opening night honours went to Nao Sakuma, Cesar Morales and Michael O’Hare. Over the years, Nao has refined her characterisation of Swanilda and she infuses her performance with lightness and joy as well as technical dexterity. Even her fingertips have meaning!. Cesar Morales was a fun-loving but gentle Franz. He has got such a beautiful line that he is breath-taking to watch. There was plenty of sparkle between them. Michael O’Hare brings Dr Coppelius to life with just the right mix of mischief and pathos. Alex Campbell (sadly for BRB fans moving to the RB next season) was terrific as the lead in the Call to Arms in Act 3. All the company were on excellent form; it is always great to see BRB as they bring life to all the characters no matter how minor and this ability enhances every performance. I could feel this silly grin spread across my face for the whole performance. Nao and Cesar also danced the leads on Saturday afternoon with Valentin Olovyannikov as an impish Dr Coppelius.

Next up we had Elisha Willis and Matt Lawrence. Elisha continues to blossom with every performance and the two I saw her do last week were no exception. I particularly like the way she gets so cross with both the doll and Franz. Her Franz was Matthew Lawrence who gave a strong performance; his acting is clear and vivid and his dancing was excellent.

Well I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the performance we saw on Thursday evening. Carole-Ann Millar and Jamie Bond were jaw-droppingly phenomenal! Carole-Ann has an amazing technique and her leaps are breathtaking. Her hoppy bits in her solos have to be seen to be believed (sorry I don’t know the technical term). Alongside all the technical pyrotechnics she had really got under the skin of Swanilda and gave a beautifully nuanced characterisation. Jamie Bond was her perfect foil as a jack-the-lad, out for a laugh Franz. It was absolutely terrific.

The final cast we saw was lead by the always glorious Ambra Vallo and Tyrone Singleton. Ambra is both sweet and mischievous and Tyrone is a real jack the lad. He was really in-the-zone for the whole performance, as was Ambra. There was a terrific connection between them.

One of the Dr Coppelius was the veteran David Morse. We are so lucky to be able to see his performances. He is such a subtle actor; he brings his characters to life with an economy of movement that somehow conveys a real depth of emotion. I was moved to tears at his sadness that the doll has been broken and again at the end when he is on his own (unitl the doll really comes to life and he joyously departs).

I’ve only concentrated on the leading roles but I must stress again that the whole company were looking to be at the top of their game. This is quite an achievement given that we are nearing the end of a long season and that they have just come back from a very successful 3-week tour of Japan performing Sleeping Beauty, Daphnis and Chloe and The Dream.

Coppelia is on in Birmingham this week, followed by an exciting David Bintley double bill and a final few performances of Coppelia in Dublin.

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