It would be easy to dismiss Coppelia as a frivolous, lightweight tale that does not carry the elements of drama and tragedy contained in the likes of Romeo and Juliet or Swan Lake.
But when it comes to pure entertainment, delivered with the impressive skill and exquisite style in this Birmingham Royal Ballet performance, you have a production that makes for a dazzling and memorable night at the theatre.
The story might not be the most complex, or even the most moving, but if ever there was a ballet to seduce the novice spectator, this is the one. The plot allows for a freedom of expression by the dancers not often found in other works. The part of the eccentric doll-maker Dr Coppelius in particular is at times as much reliant on the skill of mime as the quality of the dance, and Michael O’Hare produces a performance that is brim full of both of these talents.
For those not familiar with the tale, it is set in a village in eastern Europe and involves Coppelius’s efforts to breathe life into Coppelia, one of his life size mechanical dolls. The two young lovers at the centre of the story Swanilda (Elisha Willis) and Franz (Joseph Caley) argue when Coppelia while sitting on the Doctor’s balcony, ignores Swanilda and appears to flirt with Franz. And Franz, as evinced by his dance with a gypsy girl (a sparkling Angela Paul), needs no encouragement to flirt with a pretty girl – I suspect that in later life Swanilda would have to keep him on a very tight rein indeed.
Which is why Franz breaks in to the Doctor’s house and ends up being drugged as Coppelius endeavours to use his spirit to bring the doll to life. All ends well, however, and the lovers are united in Act III, when the Duke presents a new bell to the village church, which provides the opportunity for some superbly choreographed ensemble dances to illustrate the uses of the new bell: a call to prayer, announcement of a marriage, a call to arms and the declaration of peace.
So, we have a story with a happy ending, first class choreography, an enchanting score by Delibes, splendid sets, beautiful costumes and two central performances of the highest order. Elisha Willis combines technical perfection with fine comic timing and Joseph Caley’s portrayal of Franz steals the show as he steals girls’ hearts. As good a performance by a male lead as I’ve seen in a long time.