The best character dancer of his generation, Avis has infused new life into all the character roles he has interpreted; none, however, so complete, complex and compelling as his Dr Coppelius.
Gary Avis as Dr Coppelius © ROH 2019. Photo: Bill Cooper
From the moment Coppelius totters on early in Act I, arthritic, doddery, crotchety, Avis owns the stage and much of the ballet.
Coppélia tells of the sassy village girl, Swanilda, whose fiancé Franz becomes besotted with a mysterious young woman who sits at the window of Dr Coppelius’ home, seemingly absorbed in a book.
Jealous Swanilda uses the key Coppelius has inadvertently dropped in the village square and enters his home with her friends to investigate. There they find that the beautiful reader, Coppélia, is a mechanical doll. When Coppelius returns unexpectedly, all scatter except Swanilda, who hides.
Meanwhile, Franz finds his way into the studio in search of Coppélia. Dr Coppelius drugs him and sets about trying to transfer his life force into Coppélia – except the ‘doll’ is now Swanilda in disguise. After a lengthy duet for Swanilda and Coppelius, in which she pretends to come to life, she shakes Franz awake and both escape.
Act III is the celebration of Franz and Swanilda’s betrothal.
Coppélia is an important part of The Royal Ballet’s history, having been produced and choreographed in 1954 by the company’s formidable founder, Ninette de Valois, after the Ivanov/Cecchetti version. It is set to Léo Delibes' transporting score.
It’s a funny old ballet. The lead pair – principals Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell on opening night – have little to do in Act I, which is mostly given to a series of ensemble dances with strong Slavic influence. There is a lot of mime exaggerated for comic effect, where Franz declares his love for Coppélia and Swanilda sulks and calls off the engagement.
Act II contains the meat of the work, and a tour de force for Swanilda. And if Hayward was uncharacteristically underpowered in Act I, here she came into her own. She showed precise comic timing and full control of her dancing, whether as a jerky mechanical doll, or as an increasingly unruly, supposedly transformed young woman. Together Hayward and Avis made this Act sing, playing off each other with mesmerising verve.
Francesca Hayward as Swanilda and Gary Avis as Dr Coppelius © ROH 2019. Photo: Bill Cooper
Having spent the best part of Act II slumped over a desk in Coppelius’s home, Alexander Campbell approached his Act III variation like a thoroughbred at the races raring to go, and gave us some energetic, virtuoso dancing, his batterie still a wonder to behold.
Fumi Kaneko stood out in her Act III solo symbolising Aurora, the break of day. And the company were in fine form in the various ensemble pieces. Add to that excellent playing by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Barry Wordsworth, and you have a suitable replacement for the usual Nutcracker in pantomime season.
Principal Yasmine Naghdi dances Swanilda later in the run. Read her interview here
Coppélia will be relayed live to cinemas nationwide on 10 December. Details here
|What||The Royal Ballet, Coppélia review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
28 Nov 19 – 07 Jan 20, 19:30; 23, 28, 30 Dec & 4 Jan at 14:00 & 19:00, 31 Dec at 12:00 &17:00 Dur.: 2 hours 35 mins inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|