BRB produce a night of magic

The beauty of ballet: Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Matthew Lawrence as Franz. Pictures: Roy Smiljanic


Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


THIS is about as close to perfection as you are going to get in ballet.

The sets, three of them, are stunningly sumptuous as are the costumes, which is no more than you would expect when the designer was Peter Farmer.

The music by Léo Delibes is lavish and made even more memorable by the Royal Ballet Symphonia under Koen Kessels while the creative lighting by Peter Teigen brought the stage to life.

Oh and did I mention there was superb dancing as well.

When the production values are set that high the dancers have to raise their game to match them and no one could have been disappointed with this performance.

Matthew Lawrence is a dashing Franz, the handsome and ever so eligible bachelor living in some East European village or other.

This is a role which demands some acting ability and a tongue in cheek charm which the New Zealander has in abundance along with a powerful, athletic dancing style although he is also at home with the more subtle and expressive forms of the art as with a beautiful pas de deux in the third act with his Franz’s fiancée Swanilda, beautifully danced throughout by Australian Elisha Willis who has that wonderful ability and technique to make it all look so effortless and easy. Her pointe work is faultless and she moves with that elegant beauty that sets some dancers apart from the crowd.


It all goes a bit downhill for old Franz when he takes a shine to Coppélia (Laura-Jane Gibson) who everyone in the village thinks is the daughter of the mysterious Dr Coppélius, who makes toys and automatons in his cavernous workshop. Sadly, for Franz at least, the girl of his dreams on the balcony is just one of the nutty professor’s dolls.

The fact she never moved or blinked might have been a clue but it was a long time ago and there was no Specsavers in the village.

Swanilda was non-too-chuffed at the attention the doll was getting and was even less enamored when a troupe of travelling gypsies appeared, as they do, and one in particular sets her sights on Franz which gave the dashing Mr Lawrence a chance to dance with his real-life wife and fellow Kiwi, Gaylene Cummerfield.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda pretends to be the mechanical doll Coppélia to fool David Morse as Dr Coppélius. Photo Bill Cooper

The mysterious doctor is mugged late one night around the end of Act One and loses his key in the struggle before he is rescued and led off to recover by the local innkeeper.

Swanilda finds the key so she and a bunch of her village mates enter the workshop to find the mysterious daughter and rival for her baeu. Franz, meanwhile, has a more direct approach and goes in for plain old simple housebreaking turning up with a ladder. Subtle the lad is not.

Act Twotakes us to the workshop where we find various mechanical dolls, Spanish, Scottish and soldiers as well as trouble when the Doc comes home and attacks all and sundry with his brolly driving the corps de ballet out which is just the moment for Franz to enter through the bedroom window straight into the arms of the Doc. The boy has real timing and he also has a drink problem after the Doc offers him a drugged one for the road

In the confusion Swanilda dresses as the doll and pretends to come to life to show Franz what a prat he has been – when he finally comes round again at any rate.


The final act is in the Duke’s garden where he is handing out largesse in the shape of bags of gold to two couples, including Franz and old Swanny, who have announced their marriage that day and even the old Doc gets a bag when he complains his doll has been ruined.

There then follows a series of dances to represent life in general with time, with the Dance of the Hours, dawn, prayer, work, and so on and finally Franz and Swanilda create the dance of peace and everyone leaves to live happily every after apart from the distraught Doctor and his doll but finally at the very last gasp his mysterious powers work and Coppélia comes to life – which, if nothing else, saves him having to push her off in her chair.

David Morse, incidentally, makes a remarkable Dr Coppélius. It is not a dancing role but that probably increases the demand for some considerable acting skills. Morse brings an air of mystery to the role with a sinister side mixed with a touch of comedy along with sadness and pathos.

This is one of the great romantic ballets and was first performed in Paris in 1870 with his version choreographed by Marius Petipa, Enrico Cecchetti and Peter Wright who produced this version.

It is full of charm and has plenty of humour and some wonderful comic touches such as the reluctant crocodile of Swanilda and the corps the ballet creeping into the Doctor’s house or the doll whacking the Doctor around the head in her jerky dance.

The three acts are all so different, although linked, that you almost get three short ballets for the price of one.

Just a note as you watch – count the boots.  Each pair is made individually for the dancer concerned, and there are different cast members every night, and I am reliably informed they come in at £400 a pair.

That attention to finer details is there throughout in what is a marvellous evening. To 18-06-11.

Roger Clarke


From the wings . . .


IMAGINE filling a theatre with people who had never seen a ballet in their lives, and the curtain rises to reveal that the magical Coppelia is about to be performed.

How would they react to the early scenes with beautiful dancing, wonderful costumes and amazing sets?

Surely the vast majority would vow to return again and again, particularly when the BRB were in town.

Make no mistake, this is a fabulous ballet with dancers performing at the peak of their art in a story full of charm, humour and breathtaking skill.

From the moment the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Koen Kessels, strike up with Delibes thrilling music, a night to remember is guaranteed.

Eccentric toy maker Dr Coppelius (David Morse) is trying to bring his mechanical doll Coppelia to life, and leaves her on his balcony to test the reaction of villagers, including the handsome, red-blooded Franz whose attentions are diverted from his jealous fiancée, Swanilda.

Believing Coppelia to be a real rival, Swanilda and her friends get inside Dr C's spooky toyshop where other life-sized dolls are made to perform.

Elisha Willis gives a superb performance as Swanilda, combining beautifully with the remarkable Matthew Lawrence (Franz) who also dances with his real-life wife, Gaylene Cummerfield, playing the Gypsy.

An truly outstanding contribution, too, from Laura-Jane Gibson as Coppelia. Her movements, particularly as the mechanical doll, delighted the audience.

Produced by Peter Wright, with Marius Petipa's choreography, and scenery and costumes by Peter Farmer, Coppelia closes on Saturday night 18-06-11

The BRB return to the Hippodrome with Passion & Ecstasy on June 22-25. 

Paul Marston 


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