|Nao Sakuma as Swanilda|
Author Bill Cooper
© 2017 Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company
Birmingham Royal Ballet. Coppelia, Hippodrome, 16 June 2017, 19:30
When I last reviewed a performance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet of Sir Peter Wright's Coppelia, I described it as "sensational" (see Sensational 6 March 2015). Having seen the ballet again on the company's home turf the only way I can describe the performance is "even more sensational." Maybe that should not be surprising for who better to perform one of Sir Peter's greatest productions than Sir Peter's company.
I made up my mind to attend the ballet last night at the very last moment after a pig of a journey home. I had driven to London the night before to take delivery of a massive set of instructions that could not be carried on the train. While down there, I attended a chambers' garden party that continued until after midnight and two conferences, one of which began with a volley of emails between 05:00 and 06:00 and a phone call shortly before 07:00. I left Plumstead where I had parked my car and cleared the river after an epochal wait for the Woolwich ferry. There was heavy traffic on the North Circ and the M11. Congestion outside Cambridge on the A14. As the A14 leads eventually to the M6 the idea of breaking my journey in Birmingham occurred to me. I called the Hippodrome on the off-chance that they might still have space and was told that they had one isolated seat in the centre of the rear stalls. I grabbed it. After battling with more traffic all the way into Birmingham, I rolled up at the theatre hot, bothered and exhausted with 15 minutes to spare.
Dropping by the Hippodrome was one of the best calls I have ever made. The performance was magic. It was just what I needed. I had not had time to study the cast list but I knew we were in for a treat when I glimpsed the unmistakeable hair of Koen Kessels. He had conducted the orchestra of the Dutch National Ballet in Ted Brandsen's Coppelia last December. Nobody seems to understand Delibes's score better than Maestro Kessels. The curtain rose to Peter Farmer's village somewhere in Mitteleuropa. Nao Sakuma appeared. I started to clap but nobody followed. Nor did anyone clap Joseph Caley when he entered the stage. Clearly, the balletic tradition of welcoming the male and female leads with a brief burst of applause that happens in almost every other theatre in the world is not followed in Birmingham. That is surprising because all of Birmingham Royal Ballet's principals are good.
Sakuma was a gorgeous Swanilda. I loved the way she threw her book at Caley after catching him making eyes at the humanoid on the balcony across the square. "Sukkel" hissed Swanilde in Het's animation. How she gave him the hardest of hard times when the ear of wheat did not appear to rattle. How she led her pals into Dr Coppelius's workshop while he was in the pub recovering from his mugging. How she dared the faintest of faint hearts to approach Coppelia. How she coaxed the deluded doctor into believing his spell had worked as she sought to rescue her dopey (even at the best of times) boyfriend. And above all, I loved the final pas de deux in "Peace" which ends the ballet on a high. Whenever I see Coppelia I always wonder how long that marriage will last. Surely, such a brave, resourceful, spirited girl could surely have done so much better.
Of course, she falls for Franz because he is a hunk. The handsomest lad in a very small village in the middle of nowhere. Girls find him attractive and doesn't he just know it. After blowing kisses at a robot, he flirts with the leader of the czardas. Caley, whom I am sure is nothing like Franz in real life, fills the role perfectly. Even after nearly losing Swanilda he is silly enough to break into Coppelius's workshop. Good job there was no copper around (see R v Collins  2 All ER 1105,  3 WLR 243,  EWCA Crim 1, 136 JP 605, 56 Cr App Rep 554,  QB 100, a case that has entertained every law student in England for nearly 50 years). The silly twit deserved everything that happened to him. But Franz can dance. And how he can dance. All those great tours en l'air and entrechats and the final lift that left Swanilda dangling across his back in a curious sort of fish dive.
Dr Coppelius is a juicy character role and it was performed exquisitely by Michael O'Hare last night. Scorned as slightly screwy by the Burgermeister (Jonathan Payn) and the villagers when loud bangs and smoke erupt from his laboratory, he is surely more sinned against than sinning. Does he really deserve to be roughed up by the louts or have his home ransacked by girls on a hen night? I can quite see why he sought compensation from Swanilda's dowry.
We had a stellar cast last night. Many of my favourite dancers came on stage: Delia Mathews as Prayer and also one of Swanilda's friends along with Arancha Baselga, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Alys Shee and Yaoqian Shang; Rory Mackay as the publican and Old Father Time; Ruth Brill with Lewis Turner in Betrothal and earlier in the mazurka and czardas; William Bracewell in the call to arms with yet another favourite Brandon Lawrence from Bradford. Everyone in the cast was good and I congratulate them all whether I have mentioned them or not.
There was loud applause at the reverence but, sadly, no flowers. In another auditorium and perhaps at a different time the stage would have been ankle deep in cut flowers throw after a show like that. A massive bouquet of my county's reddest roses, then, to Sakuma. Flowers, too, for each and every lady soloist. Indeed, each and every lady who appeared on stage. And a resounding cheer for each and every one of the men who partnered them so gallantly. "You are so lucky to have this company in your city," I said to a lady who was at the ballet for the first time. "The Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the great companies of the world." How I wish it could have made its home in Manchester instead.