Coppélia is an unashamedly traditional ballet that transports us to a fairytale world of beauty, love and humour. Having delighted Durban audiences with their festive production before Christmas, our national ballet company treated Cape Town theatre goers in early January – a lovely way to end the summer holiday period.
Cape Town City Ballet’s staging was elegant, and the dancers wore beautiful traditional ballet costumes with a flavour of folk: over the knee skirts for the girls and boots for the men. It was a delightful mix of ballet and drama, all well executed by the company.
The title Coppélia refers to the life-like mechanical dancing doll that comes to life thanks to the Dr Coppélius, its secretive inventor. Franz, the male protagonist, falls in love with the beautiful Coppélia, while the quirky way she dances is mimicked by Swanhilde, Franz’s fiancé. Coppélia’s and Swanhilde’s jerky yet evocative movements were real highlights of the show; so too the ballet mime of the other dolls, and the spell book’s destruction. Needless to say, the ending is happy, charming and graceful; Cape Town City Ballet, thank goodness, didn’t exclude the last act of the wedding, as some other productions do.
The overall standard of dancing was high, especially from the ballerinas. It was particularly impressive to note that on Saturdays most of them danced two full performances: matinee and evening. Despite this, faces were wreathed in smiles, and the good feeling was quickly picked up by the audience, many of whom had dressed up for the occasion.
Coppélia was created in France by librettist Charles Nuitter, originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon and set to the music of Léo Delibes. Nuitter drew strong inspiration from E. T. A. Hoffman, the German romantic writer who also wrote the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the inspiration, of course, for The Nutcracker ballet. Hoffman is also the hero of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, recently performed in Cape Town by the Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School.
Some parts of Coppélia’s score, such as the prelude, are now well known classical pieces of music and this production would have been all the more special if there had been an orchestra. This, however, is a sad rarity for Cape Town City Ballet but on the plus side it keeps the ticket prices accessible. The soundtrack was at least reliable and seamless, ditto the lighting which was appropriately subtle but occasionally used to great dramatic effect, most notably at the moment when the spell goes disastrously wrong.
Cape Town City Ballet’s production honours and celebrates the fact that Coppélia is now considered a timeless and popular classic ballet. It suits relatively young and small ballet companies like CTCB but certainly tests their stamina – there are a lot of group pieces.
Coppélia’s run at the Artscape has just finished, but we can now look forward to Giselle, perhaps the greatest of all classical ballets, in the sylvan setting of the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre in Wynberg each Sunday from 27 January to 17 February.
Kate Crane Briggs
Kate Crane Briggs organises small arts events and tours. For more information please contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 (0)72 377 8014.