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Coppélia (Qld Ballet) – dance review

A much-loved classic with a fresh update and uniquely Australian twist, Queensland Ballet’s season of Coppélia is a charming presentation that will appeal to all ages. Choreographed by QB’s Associate Artistic Director, Greg Horsman, after Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa, this updated version is a co-production with West Australian Ballet and was first performed in Brisbane in 2014.

Photos: David Kelly

 

Still retaining all the stunning charm of the 1870 original including gorgeous traditional costuming by Noelene Hill, Horsman’s version is set in the picturesque town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. An animated prologue courtesy of PixelFrame depicts the story of Dr Coppélius’ harrowing migration to South Australia from Germany where his young daughter, Coppélia, tragically succumbs to an illness on board the ship. Alone and grief-stricken in a new land, Dr Coppélius shuts himself away, and taking inspiration from his daughter’s beloved doll, he re-creates a life-size replica of his daughter.

There were three acts and two intermissions in this ballet and, delightfully, a full set change occurred for each one. Set designer Hugh Colman excelled in creating a 19th century outback village, with Jon Buswell’s lighting designs adding to the warmth, particularly the cyclorama that changed colours to reflect a wide-open Australian sky turning to nightfall. Act II occurred inside Dr Coppelius’ home and the world created inside was incredible, with hanging doll parts and clever use of several ensemble dancers all coming to life to Delibes’ iconic score courtesy of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

It wouldn’t be a ballet without the dancing and the opening night featured standout performances by Vito Bernasconi as Dr Coppélius, Chiara Gonzalez as the cheeky and feisty Swanilda, Patricio Revé as her sweetheart with the wandering eye Franz, Laura Tosar as her Scottish best friend Mary, and Isabella Swietlicki as Liesl, the timid pastor’s daughter, complete with braided plaits.

Act I included the addition of village football player characters, expertly handling a ball as they danced in black and white ‘magpie’ striped uniforms, and a German knee-slapping dance that allowed the male corps to shine. Act II was all about Swanilda. After sneaking into Dr Coppélius’ house with her gang of girlfriends, Gonzalez’ transformation into the doll and its ensuing chaos was lots of fun to watch. Special mention also to Briana McAllen who played the doll with precision pre-masquerade.

It was in Act III that the dancing really took off with expert ballet sequences occurring one after the other. There was a beautiful pas de deux between Tosar as Mary and Alexander Idaszak as Henry, and a technically impressive partner group dance led by Tosar and Swietlicki. There was a beautiful solo from Georgia Swan as Mrs Kluge, and Principal Artist Patricio Revé demonstrated his strength and ability in both his solo and his pas de deux with Gonzalez. Their lifts were particularly outstanding, and as the curtain came down, I was not ready for the ballet to end.

Queensland Ballet has another hit on its hands under the artistic direction of Leanne Benjamin, presenting a beautiful ballet classic that is a must-see for dance lovers of all ages.

Coppélia is on at the Playhouse, QPAC until 22 June 2024.

Sarah Skubala

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