Coppélia, Coliseum, London – review

The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet is returned to London after more than a decade, and shows us a company transformed. Gone a certain late-Soviet dowdiness, and in its place this alert ensemble, the splendid Igor Zelensky as director, and Sergey Polunin escaping his recent headline identity to be shown in his true persona as a young dancer of astonishing gifts.

Not since the appearance of the miraculous Yury Solovyov with the Kirov Ballet 50 years ago have I seen a male dancer of such vivid talent, and with this revitalised Stanislavsky troupe he finds a setting which has already brought him Mayerling – the company has lately mounted an admirable staging in Moscow – and here sets him racing and shining across the stage in Roland Petit’s joyous version of Coppélia.

Petit moves the dear old ballet to a French provincial town with an on-stage barracks – cue soldiery instead of Galician peasants – and the period to the Belle Epoque – cue pretty costumes for the women – and then allows the usual intrigue about a doll seeming to come alive to develop. The action is considerably trimmed, but the staging is enormous fun, and given with unfailing verve by the Stanislavsky dancers. Coppélius, a role in which Petit was sublimely witty, is a boulevardier, and is played with tremendous charm by Anton Domashev, who is elegance personified in his activities with the supposed doll and, indeed, with anything else that this stylish affair sets nipping at his heels. Laurels for him. The Swanilda – the company fields three in this all-too-brief season – was Kristina Shapran, long-legged and charming, coping sweetly with every merry trick that Petit gives her, and resourceful in drama as in step.

Polunin as Frantz was simply – or rather, very complicatedly – himself, which means an artist with an uncanny sense of how the academic dance shapes character, of how character should shape academic dance. Watching him you know, and see in clearest terms, how dance functions to tell about drama, about movement itself, its ardours, its heart-stirring inevitability as human action. His is a rare and splendid – and probably and inevitably damn difficult – stage presence. And he rejoices the heart.

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