Coppelia [Varna International Ballet] – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey
The Varna International Ballet may be one of the most recognised companies across Europe, having been established in 1947, but, remarkably they embarked on their first-ever tour of the UK just before Christmas. And this week it’s the turn of Hull New Theatre to play host to their productions of Coppelia, Giselle, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, with the nearest they come to Yorkshire after that being in Darlington at the end of January.
While Coppelia may be the least well known of that quartet, it’s been going strong since its premiere in 1870, with a score by Leo Delibes, who was something of a dab hand at composing operatic scores, with Coppelia proving to be his first compositional hit. And to this day it’s still a rather charming and simple affair, with none of the dark elements that are often a feature of ballets, partly as there’s not actually a huge amount to the story, focusing as it does on the tale of a toymaker who tries to make his creation of a human-looking doll come to life.
Said toymaker, Dr Coppelius, is the only slightly sinister character in the story, and even then he’s more mildly eccentric and fixated rather than offering up any real threat, making this a story that’s perfect for all ages, and a great introduction to ballet for youngsters. It was also in very safe hands with the Varna International Ballet, whose adaptation brought colour, charm and character to the stage, with Anastasia Lebedyk to the fore as Swanilda. As well as the antics of Dr Coppelius, the main focus of the story is Swanilda’s relationship with Franz, played here by Marcello Pelizzoni, and their impending wedding. Their preparations seem to be going rather smoothly, that is until Franz has his head turned by seeing the doll Coppelia in a window, and becomes rather transfixed by her. But, this being a comedy-of-errors ballet, this obsession is a relatively harmless one, and Swanilda actually takes it all rather well once she realises that Coppelia is only a doll, and pretends to be her, much to the annoyance of the toymaker and no doubt to the relief of Franz.
With all forgiven, the second act is largely one for the dancers to show off their individual skills, and special mention here has to go to Andrea Conforti for her remarkable performance as Coppelia, with her solo doll-like dance having to be seen to be believed. All of the villagers seem delighted at the wedding celebrations, gathering to join Swanilda and Franz for the big occasion, and leaving the frustrated Dr Coppelius to doubtless head back to the drawing board in his curious machinations.