Something special happened last night at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Coppelia.
It’s a 19th Century Russian ballet in the French tradition and although the legendary Petipa himself had a hand in its creation, modern productions can look a bit fusty. But here it’s revealed in all its pomp as a work of humour and humanity on the grand scale, comfortingly with absolutely no visible expense spared.
It’s always been a gem of their extensive repertoire of classics but this current outing is head and shoulders above all others, truly in a class of its own.
Briefly we’re in a country village where dotty old inventor Doctor Coppelius makes mechanical dolls. He’s made one so lifelike that village lad Franz falls for her, to the chagrin of his intended, Swanilda. So when the Doctor drops his key on the way to the inn she and her friends sneak into his house with trepidation to find out about his fabled inventions, and Franz climbs in too to meet his dream-girl Coppelia.
The mechanical marvels are fascinating and a little scary, but when the Doctor arrives back unexpectedly the girls are forced to hide, and now a little black magic enters the plot. Because Doctor Coppelius, in love with the doll he’s made, drugs Franz, intending to steal his soul in a genuinely sinister scene, and animate the doll he has made. Fortunately Swanilda saves the day, and everything dissolves into laughter.
But I’d forgotten that in addition to the marvellous story-telling of the first two acts it’s the completely unexpected and monumental third act with its Versailles-style celebration that is this work’s crowning glory, truly on the grandest of grand scales.
The final great pas de deux of Nao Sakuma and Joseph Caley is at the very top of its game, but the electrifyingly vigorous Hussars’ dance at almost the end of an evening of such fresh balletic virtuosity brought shouts of delight from a crowded and by now deliriously delighted audience, a five-minute tour de force that alone was worth the price of admission.
It’s an early start to the season, but with this Coppelia the Birmingham Royal Ballet have set a new, higher standard it’s going to be hard to match.
If you can still get a ticket, go.
Coppelia runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until June 17. For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com.