It’s a happy welcome back to the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, who graced us with their presence last year when we enjoyed their Snow Maiden. For 2020 they have returned with productions of Sleeping Beauty on Monday and Swan Lake on Wednesday, but we plumped for Coppelia on Tuesday, because we’ve only seen it once before and I did feel like I needed a refresher.
Based in Krasnoyarsk they bring an enticing whiff of the Steppes to our shores, blending innate elegance with technical expertise and a delightful observance of all the conventions of the Grand Russian Ballet. These conventions tend to get unrecognised by us Britishers, but I’m always amused and impressed by the performers’ ability to break off from a dance to take a spontaneous round of applause (always received with utmost humility) and I love the way they walk a wide circuit of the stage to receive gracious acknowledgement gestures from the dancers clinging to the edges. During the next week I shall wave graciously at Mrs Chrisparkle when she comes out of the shower. If it’s good enough for the Siberians, it’s good enough for us.
It was good to be reminded of the content of Coppelia, because it’s a charming and surprisingly funny ballet, with the age-old simple story of boy meets girl meets automated doll. Girl gets jealous but when she discovers her rival is no more than some painted wood, she tricks boy into believing that she is the doll. Truth is revealed, they flee from the ire of the Doctor who has made the doll, there’s a long wedding sequence and they all live happily ever after. No dying swans here. A university friend once pointed out the similarities between the choreography in the video that accompanied Toni Basil’s Mickey and Coppelia. How we scoffed and mocked him for his pretentiousness. But, on reflection, he’s completely right.
Scenery-wise, it would be fair to say the Russian State Ballet of Siberia travel light, but they make up for it with some wonderfully stunning costumes. The ladies are resplendent in beautiful dresses, a mix of bold and subtle colours and styles that bring their own vivacity to the stage. Similarly, the gentlemen are bedecked in smart tunics and strongly coloured shirts; Egor Osokin’s fantastic red military suit as the Burgomeister stood out, as did Ivan Karnaukhov’s Doctor Coppelius’ bright blue cloak creation. The whole thing genuinely is a treat for the eyes, and that’s even without considering the dancing.
The evening started curiously; the lights went down and then there was a long pause before anything happened. Some desultory applause started at the back of the auditorium and at first I thought it was a few disgruntled punters taking the mick. But no, they could see from their vantage point that Maestro Anatoliy Chepurnoy had mounted his podium, although in the front stalls we couldn’t see him. Suddenly his little head popped up over the railing, and with some encouraging hand gestures exhorted us into a rousing round of applause. More! More! his wavy hands were saying, so a few pantomime-style whoops and cheers came from somewhere behind me. Satisfied that we’d greeted the audience with the fervour they deserved, he decided to get on with the conducting.
Delibes’ score is crammed with luscious tunes all the way through, none more luscious than its opening number, the famous Mazurka which gets your feet tapping and your legs entrechatting. They’ve played about with the sequence of the music a little bit; nevertheless, it sounds great, despite the couple of duff notes played by the horn towards the end of the first Act. They’ve also removed some of the spookier aspects to the story, making Coppelius less of a Doctor Evil and more of a crotchety old fop. No matter, it works well with Alexander Gorsky and Gennady Malkhasiants’ revised choreography.
In the lead role of Swanhilda, Elena Svinko is outstanding. She was a magnificent Kupava in last year’s Snow Maiden and once again she brings elegance, skill and a terrific presence to the stage. She uses her expressions to tell the story so well that we completely understand the character and motivations of Swanhilda. She also always looks like she’s having a really wonderful time on stage, which is always a bonus for the Russian ballet. She is matched by Marcello Pelizzoni as Franz, a fresh-faced youth with impressive agility and style, who’s also a superb storyteller. Was he really only born in 1999? That’s amazing – this young man is truly going places. Together the two leads created an excellent partnership.
I enjoyed Ivan Karnaukhov’s semi-villainous Coppelius, flouncing theatrically around the stage; Mariami Kuloshvili didn’t have a large role to dance as the Coppelia Doll but when she brought it to life it was very entertaining. Miryam Roca created a very vivacious Town Celebrity character, and she was nicely accompanied by Egor Osokin’s dignified Burgomeister. The Fairy was danced by Anastasia Osokina with all the grace and charm that we saw last year, and I particularly enjoyed the trio danced by Nerea Astorga, Sofya Eremina and Arianna Guastaferro. The six Corps de Ballet dancers who played Swanhilda’s friends were totally enchanting, particularly bringing out the character and humour in the scene where they break into the Doctor’s toyroom.
There were one or two slightly dicey moments; a male member of the Corps had a worried look on his face throughout the whole of one dance and when it came to an end he wore that relieved expression you see on a pensioner when they’ve reached the top of an escalator and congratulate themselves on having got that far. It may have been the same chap who in the second Act dropped his hat early on and then kept giggling about it with his friends. There was also a moment when I had to stop Mrs C laughing when Mr Karnaukhov got the hem of this cloak caught under the door to the Doctor’s studio, and you could see frantic shiftings of material from the other side in an attempt to liberate the offending garment, whilst dancers battled on regardless. Inevitable, when a company only plays one performance of a dance at a theatre, that these little issues will emerge. But, on the whole, it was a high-quality performance and everyone seemed happy with how it all went, especially once they’d found Mr Chepurnoy to join them for the final curtain. After their visit to Northampton the company continues its tour to Wolverhampton, High Wycombe, Wimbledon, Southend, Canterbury, Brighton, Halifax, Oxford, Leicester, Basingstoke, Swindon, Ipswich, Bournemouth and Sheffield. I always enjoy seeing these dancers – and I’m sure you would too.