Touring – reviewed at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
The Australian Ballet continues their cleverly conceived Storytime Ballet series with Coppélia, an ideal first ballet for young audiences.
The running time may be condensed to a swift 50 minutes, but the programme respects the junior attendees by offering an authentic ballet experience. The production utilises the original score and design from the full-length production, with just a touch of playful narration to bring focus to key moments of the story. Pantomime-like audience vocal participation supports the stage magic. An eight-page complimentary programme contains a double page spread for colouring in. The experience is completed by the provision of an abundance of dress-up costumes in the foyer.
Based on the original choreography, the Australian Ballet’s artistic director David McAllister has overseen the production, also providing additional choreography. Miraculously, the edited version tells the full story of Coppélia, from the sunny village opening to the intrusion into Dr Coppelius’ toy workshop to the happy-ever-after wedding festivities of the finale.
The sinister nature of Dr Coppelius is sweetly offset by giving the character the narration and audience interaction. Sean McGrath performs the role with merry warmth, successfully eliciting delighted vocal responses.
The ballet is performed to a recording of Léo Delibes’ charming score, played by Orchestra Victoria. McAllister’s intimate knowledge of the work is seen in his judicious selection of music without the edited score feeling choppy or abrupt.
Working with ten young dancers, McAllister has neatly provided village sweethearts Swanilda and Franz with three friends each. In the smaller space of the Playhouse, these eight dancers look plentiful as they perform the festive massed sequences. Hugh Colman’s quaint village setting is scaled down for the space, with a full lighting design adding to the visual interest.
A blaze of amber and orange, Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes are a key feature of the production. The life-sized dolls of the toy workshop are spooky without being too scary, while the crystalline purity of Coppélia herself is a lovely highlight.
The combination of the smaller auditorium and the absence of an orchestra pit means that the audience is able to feel a close connection to the dancers. The full company projects a sense of joy in their work, which enhances their brightly polished performances.
Miss Seven, niece of Man in Chair, particularly enjoyed the full company dances. With the largely wordless performance being a relatively unique experience, Miss Seven’s imagination was ignited by the enchanting storytelling, which she followed with ease.
An ideal treat for the festive season, Storytime Ballet: Coppélia is sure to cultivate future aficionados of ballet. Be there early for the dress-ups!
Storytime Ballet: Coppélia plays at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 16 December 2018 before touring to Sydney, Chatswood, Gosford, Penrith, Canberra and Narre Warren.
Photos: Jeff Busby