BWW Review: COPPELIA, Royal Opera House
There's a lot riding on this revival of Ninette de Valois' production of Coppélia. Not only is it being performed by an (almost) entirely new crop of dancers since it was last seen here in 2006, it replaces Sir Peter Wright's long-loved production of Nutcracker as this year's festive treat.
It's a tentative start in an opening act that lacks the slick delivery of other classics in the repertoire. The demanding choreography for the corps in the gymnastic antics of the Burgomaster's fȇte could be cleaner, but Osbert Lancaster's designs are bright and charming enough to provide eye-catching distraction.
There's little storytelling to do; Swanhilda is engaged to Franz, but he becomes infatuated with the mechanical doll in Coppélius's window, who he believes to be real. As Swanhilda, Francesca Hayward is just the perfect balance of endearing but petulant in her response to Alexander Campbell's amiable but emotionally immature Franz. Her light dancing exudes innocence and naivety, as she delicately controls the numerous required hops en pointe.
Later, in Act Two, her mechanical bounces as she impersonates Dr Coppélius's creation show great wit, with her expressive face and exaggerated blinks no doubt transmitting right to the back of the amphitheatre. Hayward also shares a great chemistry with her faithful following of friends, who are well drilled in roles that require endurance, comic timing and crisp movement, who all contribute to this joyful debut.
Alexander Campbell's Franz succeeds in being dashing enough that the audience can forgive him for jilting his betrothed so thoughtlessly, although he has little material to dazzle the audience with until some virtuoso dancing in the final pas de deux.
It's in Dr Coppélius's dusty residence that the story comes alive, with brightly dressed dolls and Gary Avis's flawlessly timed and detailed Dr Coppélius taking centre stage. Worth the ticket price alone. Hayward's Swanhilda takes great glee in running rings around the doddery old doll-maker here in scenes of pure pantomime that snap with pace and energy.
Act Three celebrates the marriage of the happy couple in a scene of exciting ensemble pieces, including the beguiling "Masque of the Hours". Fumi Kaneko performs with style and panache in the Aurora solo that shows off her neat, bright dancing, in contrast to Hayward's delicate, soft steps. Itziar Mendizabal - a last minute stand in for Melissa Hamilton - is effortless and ethereal as the Prayer, mastering the lengthy arabesque balances with a calm gracefulness.
Whether the mechanics of Coppélius's troublesome doll or Clara's magical Christmas gift are the most successful is subjective, of course. Coppélia feels like a worthy diversion with its candy-cane colours, dreamy Delibes score and goofy comedy, but the paper-thin story and occasional lack of choreographic thrills mean I'll still look forward to a return to the Kingdom of Sweets.
Coppélia is in repertoire at the Royal Opera House until 7 January, 2020
Image: Bill Cooper