Coppélia. Australian Conservatoire of Ballet

18 December 2015 (evening), Hamer Hall, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

What a wonderful surprise this performance was! The venue was interesting—Hamer Hall is basically a venue for concerts and so the performance space is without a proscenium arch. But the unusual space was used thoughtfully and little of the theatricality that is achieved with a proscenium-style theatre was lost.

This Coppélia was staged by Maina Gielgud especially for the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, a training establishment led by former Australian Ballet dancers Christine Walsh and Ricardo Ella. Gielgud had added some choreography and had made some changes in order to accommodate her cast, including giving Swanilda (Swanhilda in this production) a little sister called Elysia, adding two extra friends for Swanilda and, with fewer male dancers than might be available in a company, rearranging some dances slightly. Gielgud also re-imagined somewhat the character of Dr Coppélius having him make two swans, a spider, a caterpillar and other creatures, which we saw in his workshop in Act II,  in addition to his ultimate creation, the doll Coppélia. Otherwise the ballet ran as we have come to expect.

Coppelia's friends in rehearsal, Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, 2015
Coppélia’s friends in rehearsal, Australian Conservatoire of Ballet, 2015

But this was no ordinary school production. The dancers had been beautifully trained, thoroughly rehearsed and looked like professionals. It was a thrill to see such a sense of engagement among the cast throughout the show, which of course transfers across into the auditorium and gives the audience a sense of engagement as well. And this theatricality began early with a wonderful performance of the Act I Mazurka. This was not one of those staid renditions that we often see. This was real character dancing with bodies bending, faces beaming with pleasure, and steps being performed strongly. And the same can be said of the Czardas that followed later in the act

Two guest artists from Tokyo Ballet, Maria Kawantani and Arata Miyagawa, took the leading roles. Both were beautiful dancers but, in particular, Miyagawa as Franz was technically superb. Everything was so cleanly executed. His double tours were done with such perfection in the body and feet (and amazing landings in a perfectly placed demi-plié), but they also soared upwards in a way that made me gasp. Then there were the manèges of various steps, the pirouettes, his partnering—he was just brilliant. But more than that, he too had that sense of engagement with everything and everyone on stage. I just loved the way he blew kisses across the stage to Swanilda as she was about to start a variation in Act III.

Another standout performer was the young girl, Hana Glasgow-Palmer, who played Swanilda’s little sister. Too young yet to be part of the Conservatoire’s professional training program, she nevertheless gave the role real character. Her outstanding stage presence and, again, that ability to engage, augurs well for her future. I also especially enjoyed Prayer, danced calmly and serenely by Victoria Norris. But every dancer contributed beautifully to this performance and, quite honestly, in a number of ways it outshone many a professional show I have seen.

The music was played by the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet Orchestra, with some musicians seated on a dais upstage, others above the stage space. The orchestra was led by conductor Peter Tandy and there were times when the music gave me goose bumps, again something I don’t normally feel when listening to orchestral accompaniments at the ballet.

This Coppélia was a significant achievement for all concerned.

Christine Walsh, Maria Kawatani, Maina Gielgud
Christine Walsh, Maria Kawatani, Maina Gielgud

Michelle Potter, 22 December 2015

5 thoughts on “Coppélia. Australian Conservatoire of Ballet

  1. I am so glad you were able to see this production Michelle. I heartily concur with everything you say. They looked like a company not an end of year gathering. And how good was it to see such lovely female costumes, which clearly showed the legs and arms, enabling us to appreciate Maina’s classical staging. Her story telling through the mine was very clear cut and her choreography for the various levels of students was beautifully in proportion to their abilities. You are right about the orchestra too – more strings than we are used to – and a really “ballet” feel to the playing. I left the performance [Sat eve] on a high – which I certainly did not do after any of the AB’s recent “Beauty” performances.

  2. Thank you Adrian. It is a thrill to be able to write something positive and to be reminded of why we keep going back to the ballet. One never knows when one will be surprised and go home on a high, which I did too.

    You are right about the costumes (designs by Christine Walsh). They were beautifully conceived to show off the dancer and the dance, which is what it is all about. The only one I wasn’t all that attracted to was that for Swanilda’s mother. I thought the cap she wore was the wrong colour and not all that attractive. But a small point.

    I have just received some rehearsal shots which I will load shortly.

  3. I, too, concur. The ACB never seems to fail or even come close when it comes to presenting a beautifully honed, technically polished and enthralling end of year performance. Personally it’s a must see show for any true, passionate follower of ballet! They dance with a certain joie de vivre lacking in many others’ productions today…a testament to their training and how the students are inspired in such a way as to engage the audience so in every show I’ve seen by this wonderful school.

  4. Thanks Daniel. What continues to amaze me too is that nothing seemed ‘pasted on’ the dancers. Their passion for what they were doing genuinely shone through. This is the first ACB show I have seen and I am certainly looking forward to the next one.

  5. Dear Michelle
    Firstl I’m sorry to contact you this way but I have not got another contact for you
    I am trying to gather material on Gailene for a book to be published on her life I was wondering if you had any audio copies of the Interview you did with her in 2012 I think it was
    If you do have a CD of it could I ask you to get a copy of it for me
    It’s hard to believe this April will be 2 years since she passed away
    I miss her terribly and life is certainly not the same for me anymore
    She is dearly missed by everyone
    I hope you are well Michelle and that you receive this
    Look forward to hearing from you
    Best wishes
    Gary Norman

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