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The Royal Ballet’s staging of Coppélia was made by Ninette de Valois 52 years ago, and it is as near perfect as we can expect in this vale of tears.
Other ballet troupes ignore or traduce or (damn them) update this masterpiece. Dame Ninette’s version adopts and imaginatively adapts the late-19th-century production from the Mariinsky Theatre, which she acquired for her infant company (and in which she danced Swanilda) in 1933. Revived and expanded by de Valois in 1954, it remains an ideal re-creation of a classic, respecting old choreography, a family heirloom that has responded to loving attention. It has delightful design by Osbert Lancaster, and in this current revival the miracle of Delibes’ score is admirably displayed by the orchestra under Benjamin Pope.
I am a believer in the Thomas Beecham “keep the buggers on the hop” school of ballet conducting. The onward rhythmic momentum of a dance score, the vital illumination of the steps by the music’s phrasing and sonorities, can be sustained only if the conductor understands score and dance equally.
I grew up as a ballet-goer under Constant Lambert’s baton in the 1940s, and Lambert taught audiences and dancers alike that the score must guide interpretation not least by its rigours (no helpful hanging about, no cosy rallentandos when the ballerina wants to show off). So, Benjamin Pope, whose grand account of Sylvia last season brought the staging vividly to life.
And so this sparkling Coppélia on Wednesday night, led with delightful verve by Miyako Yoshida, partnered by Federico Bonelli, who makes little of the drama but everything of the few opportunities to dance elegantly. Bright, bold, admirable dancing from the ensemble, and an outstanding account of the radiant Dawn solo from Laura Morera. And I record with great pleasure that at this performance Steven McRae, still a young (and remarkable) soloist with the company, was awarded the second annual Ben Stevenson Rising Star Award for excellence by the management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton. Cheers for him! ★★★★★
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