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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet- Coppelia


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There was a standing ovation. Someone shouted “this is off the scale”. As the curtain fell on the 20th anniversary of Sir Peter Wright’s Coppélia, Beth Baker-Wyse explores why this might just be ‘the most beautiful ballet in existence’.

Before Birmingham Royal Ballet had even brought life to the house, The Hippodrome auditorium was filled with those eager to claim this tale as their favourite theatrical production. The bar had been set high, and predictably did not disappoint. Combine a skilled group of dancers with an infectious score and astounding attention to detail: an unforgettable ballet is born.

Set in a village in Eastern Europe, the evening told the tale of Swanilda and her financé Franz,confronted with the very human obstacles of everyday life that make this performance so distinct from the fairy-tale tradition typical of the classical ballet world. We feel jealousy when the exotic Gypsy tempts Franz to a dance, fear when Swanilda and her friends enter Dr Coppélius’s workshop by night and amusement when doll Coppélia is mistaken for a young girl, affirming this as a performance that is successful in reaching out to its audience.

The stage was awash with colour and energy from start to finish, with Peter Farmer’s set and costumes moving from sleepy pastoral village to ominous laboratory and palatial gardens with ease. Much of the production’s charm comes from Delibes’s score, with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia matching mime and melody to prove the composer’s work as ‘full of grace and vivacity’. With the ability to really make moments like the drinking scene between Dr Coppélius and Franz come to life, orchestration also provided set pieces for each of the eccentric toyshop maker’s dolls; making for a thoughtful arrangement.

David Bintley directs his corps de ballet toward a sharp but sensitive performance, with Act I’s rapport between the naivety of Swanilda’s sunny friends and the spirit of a twenty two strong Czárdas showing a real sense of community. They also shine in Act III as blossoming hours and workers in the fields, providing Swanilda and her would be lover with compassionate support.

The couple were accompanied by some other particularly accomplished performances, with Maureya Lebowitz playing the perfectly faithful friend, Daria Stanciulescu making an expert debut as the fiery Gypsy and Michael O’Hare returning to his role as an endearing Dr Coppélius. Act III also saw Yvette Knight perform an effervescent ‘Dawn’, whilst Jenna Roberts resembled a worshipful Dutch painting in her tender portrayal of ‘Prayer’.

Nevertheless, Principle dancers Momoko Hirata and César Morales headlined the performance with outstanding stamina and versatility. Hirata was a Swanilda on fire, as the dancer won audible gasps from the audience with a series of lightening pirouettes. At ease with both the giddy romance and steely strength needed to make the piece look effortless, the pair sustained both technical and comedic elements throughout.

Often described as ‘the last flowering of the Romantic ballet tradition’, Sir Peter Wright’s production shows no signs of slowing down, with its intricate tale of charismatic country life leaving an aftertaste in the mouths of a captive audience.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’sCoppélia runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until February 28th, when the company will be touring to the Lowry, Salford and the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. For more information and to book tickets please visit

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