Royal Opera House, London – until 7 January 2020
Well, hello, Dolly – finally back where you belong at Covent Garden, after a 13-year hiatus. Coppélia may be the nearest classical ballet comes to pantomime and as a choice alternative to the usual slew of Nutcrackers and Sleeping Beauties, this one is a tuneful and comic delight.
Vintage cartoonist Osbert Lancaster’s colourful 1954 designs place us in a story book Eastern Europe with tight bodices, full skirts and men in leggings and boots, and while it’s not envelope-pushing, Ninette de Valois’ choreography is tight on precision, extension and rigorous pointe work.
The plot is deliciously silly – Swanilda and Franz are young lovers, but he’s besotted by a ‘girl’ seen in a window, a mechanical doll made by the creepy-to-downright-Jeffrey-Epstein character of Dr Coppelius played by hugely popular character artist Gary Avis.
Crazy kids break into the workshop, trick the old guy into believing the doll’s come to life, a prince doles out bags of gold to make everyone happy, and there’s a wedding at the end.
Coppélia is especially good for your smaller peeps because there’s none of the frightening darkness even of Swan Lake, and there is such a wealth of exuberant routines from the Scottish and Spanish solos, to superb 24-strong corps de ballet where the rhythmic slapping of soft leather boots and the super-precise placing of the feet in their Hungarian-inspired Mazurka and Csárdás formation dances is so uplifting.
It’s not perfect, but neither is it a lazy revival, most of the principals in this season have not danced Coppélia in their careers before, so there’s a freshness to all the performances.
Francesca Hayward is a glorious Swanilda, the sustained strength and controlled elegance of her dancing brought rapturous applause, and she’s a neat mime and comedienne too. Her partnership with Alexander Campbell’s Franz is both powerful and romantic – Franz spends most of the second act in a drugged stupor but comes thrillingly to life in the final scenes
Covent Garden is always worth the investment but if the royal box is a touch beyond your Christmas budget, Coppélia is <a href=http://johnnyfox.co.uk/reviews/coppelia-royal-ballet-covent-garden/ in fifty cinemas across London (and the rest of the world) on Tuesday 10 December.
Until 7 January 2020