franz and swanilda

 Tyrone Singleton as Franz and Céline Gittens as Coppélia. Pictures: Bill Cooper


Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


What a stunning Coppélia from a revitalised BRB, a performance full of life and sparkling with invention and comedy.

Céline Gittens is quite superb as Swanilda, the attractive young girl who is due to marry Franz. A happy love story of country folk except Franz has fallen for another - Coppélia, a pretty girl reading a book on a balcony across the square. Franz hasn’t clocked that his new love is actually a doll created by Dr Coppélius, a sort of oddball inventor, but life was simpler back in 1870 when the ballet first appeared, and Specsavers was yet to open its first shop.

But back to Swanilda and this is a massive role, meaning Gittens has to put in an exhausting shift but she never puts a foot wrong, whether it is as the upset and ignored lover in act I, or pretending to be a doll - creaking robot not the easiest of dances - in act II or returning to her day job as a prima ballerina in act III. The lady is a class act.

She is matched by Tyrone Singleton as Franz, he has that ability of the best principal dancers of seeming to leap that bit higher, that bit further and stay aloft that bit longer than the rest, and making things that would put most of us in traction look perfectly natural and easy.


Céline Gittens pretending to be Dr Coppélius' s doll

Mind you unlike Swanilda, old Fritz has a fairly easy act II as apart for a skirmish with the good, or possibly bad, doctor as he spends most of the act asleep in a drugged stupor.

Together the pair are well matched but the hightlight has to be the romantic, and gentle pas de deux in act III to the LaPaix viola solo beautifully played by Errika Collins, the principal viola at the always excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy. Dancer, movement and music in perfect unison.

Michael O’Hare joined the Saddler’s Wells Royal Ballet back in 1980 moving with the company to Birmingham in 1990, and moving from principal to a quite magnificent exponent of character roles, including Dr Coppélius – as well as being the company’s Senior Répétiteur, or ballet master.

We are never quite sure about the doctor, he’s a bit mysterious, almost sinister with his clockwork robot creations, plus his penchant for deadly concoctions and ancient spells.

But O’Hare manages to mix the hint of evil with glorious fun from his Chaplinesque quick footed walk like a penguin on speed to the hint of Mr Pastry about his actions, with looks and asides all designed to maximise laughs. We even feel sorry for him when all his hopes for his ballerina doll are dashed by Swanilda’s deception.

 In his workshop we meet some of his dolls, the Chinese Doll, Olivia Chang Clarke; the Spanish Doll, Amelia Thompson; the Scottish Doll, Louis Andreasen; and the pair of Soldier Dolls, Oscar Kempsey-Fagg and Mason King.  

Another former principal keeping his hand in is Assistant Director Dominic Antonucci who appears in act III as The Duke, who is holding a fete to celebrate his gift of a new bell to the church.

His wife, the Duchess, is Daria Stanciulescu who has done very well for herself when it comes to rapid social climbing.

Back in act I which must have been, what, all of an hour or so ago, she was a sexy gypsy, aiming to get her free spirit talons into the less than worldly wise Franz by her confident, racy dance.

There is also good support from Swanilda’s friends, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Sofia Liñares, Rachele Pizzillo, Lucy Waine an Yijing Zhang who provide not only moments of delightful dance but a fine sense of timing and humour.

The fete sees solo performances from Miki Mizutani as Dawn, Yijing Zhang as Prayer and Reina Fuchigami and Gus Payne as a betrothed couple.

Meanwhile Rory Mackay, looking like Gandalf’s cousin, rolls on as Father Time, perhaps an advert for the evils of drink as he was the innkeeper back in act I, I suppose just proving how hard life can be in the pub trade these days.

Coppélia is an old favourite but the appointment of Carlos Acosta as director has brought a freshness and new vigour to the production, even Peter Farmer’s set and costumes seemed brighter, and after a brilliant triple bill last week, leaves BRB going for a treble of triumphs next month with the newly refurbished Nutcracker, Sir Peter Wright’s gift to Birmingham which welcomed the company to the city 32 years ago. Coppélia will be reading her book on the balcony to 29-10-22.

Roger Clarke



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