A Sydney tabloid recently described the Australian Ballet’s current production of Coppélia as ‘One for all the Betty Ballerinas’ and noted that it emphasised ‘sugary narrative and formal technique’. The review was spot on—unfortunately, I have to say. Coppélia can actually be quite a moving experience. It certainly should be more than it was at the performance I attended.
Most disastrous from a dramatic point of view was Act II. It seemed to me that Swanilda (Gina Brescianini), Franz (Ty King-Wall) and Dr Coppélius (Matthew Donnelly) were doing nothing more than going through the motions—and at what seemed like breakneck speed. Was the music too fast? Or was there just no understanding whatsoever of dramatic emphasis or the value of an occasional moment of stillness? Or both?
When the curtain went down on Dr Coppélius embracing a rag doll, there was no feeling that here was an old man whose dreams had been shattered—it needs a little pathos at this point. Swanilda looked back but briefly at the havoc she and her friends had caused. She may have placed her hand on her heart or made some other fleeting gesture (it was all over so quickly and without any sense of the dramatic that it is hard to remember). Franz just disappeared out the window after failing to get involved at any point in the unfolding events.
Act III was little better. By that stage Brescianini had tired badly and was not able to sustain her technique at the level required to dance the lead in a full length role. King-Wall had similar difficulties and his feet in particular started to look decidedly unballetic. And did anyone tell the reapers what a reaper does? Or even that they were meant to be reapers? They just smiled determinedly, and did the set steps.
It was a sad occasion for me and I’m afraid I began to long for ‘the good old days’ of the fairly recent past, for the Swanildas of, for example, Lisa Bolte and Miranda Coney, for the Franzs of Steven Heathcote and even David McAllister. Maybe it was a bad day? And it wasn’t the first cast. But the problems it seems to me go beyond those kinds of excuses.
Michelle Potter, 16 May 2010