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Review: Coppelia @ Birmingham Hippodrome

From the moment the orchestra struck up the overture BRB’s new production of Coppelia had the bright sheen of success.

This 1870 ballet has plenty going for it, not least a ravishingly light-hearted score and a charming comic storyline that mixes rustic romance with just a little magic. But here it’s the dancers who really score, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s already high standards seeming to get even better with every season.

The story’s set in one of those little villages so beloved of 19th century French ballet (Giselle, La Fille Mal Gardee) and here dwell sweethearts Franz and Swanilda. But across the square lives Doctor Coppelius, maker of life-size mechanical dolls. They’re so realistic that when he pushes one out onto his balcony Franz falls for her and vows to meet her. Swanilda is naturally jealous, and when both lovers independently decide to creep into the doll-maker’s house that night for quite different reasons, you have a plot that’s funny, touching and with a satisfying hint of the macabre.

I’ve been watching principal dancers Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma for a long time now. They’ve grown up with the company. Chi was originally a young boy with a prodigious jump; Nao has always been a pretty and technically assured principal. But in this role Chi has come fully of age. He is genuinely the likely lad who Swanilda bosses around but whose roving eye mistakes Coppelia for a real girl and plans to do something about it. Nao’s second act performance as the pretend doll is technically astonishing and acted with real charm.

Michael O’Hare, a truly gifted mime gives a marvellous performance as the slightly dotty but surprisingly spry Doctor Copelius. In a huge cast I must just also mention Victoria Marr as the sassy gypsy capable of industrial-strength flirting. I don’t ever remember the last act Festival of the Bell with its leaping lords being so lavish; in fact I’ve never seen Coppelia done so well. This a sure-fire hit of a production, a joyful spectacle full of comedy and grace.

Coppelia runs until Saturday (June), Giselle from June 19 to 22. For tickets call 0844 338 5000 or go online at

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