London Coliseum, London, UK; July 23, 2014

David Mead

Shiori Kase as a very sunny Swanilda in English National Ballet's 'Coppélia'. Photo David Jensen©

Shiori Kase as a very sunny Swanilda in English National Ballet’s ‘Coppélia’.
Photo David Jensen©

When I first cast eyes on Shiori Kase at Northern Ballet’s 40th anniversary gala at the end of 2009, dancing the big “Le Corsaire” pas de deux with Vadim Mutagirov, it registered immediately that here was a big, big talent. Just how big is starting to become really apparent. Fresh from taking the Gold Medal at the USA International Ballet Competition last month, here in Ronald Hynd’s production of “Coppélia” she was a near perfect Swanilda.

Kase has that very special quality of making everything look easy and natural. She seems to be able to find time in the dance that many others don’t. Her technique is delicate and precise. She also has great arms, and footwork that is feather-light with keeping its sharpness. But “Coppélia” requires more than technique. It needs character and personality. Kase came up with the goods here too. Her facial expressions constantly said it all. In the Ballad of the Ear of Corn, she really did look like she was about to burst into tears when she couldn’t hear anything. And right now, she’s still only a Soloist. Her promotion to First Soloist from next season is well-deserved.

Shiori Kase and Yonah Acosta as Swanilda and Franz. Photo © David Jensen

Shiori Kase and Yonah Acosta as Swanilda and Franz.
Photo © David Jensen

Kase had an excellent Franz as support, the fast-rising Yonah Acosta, also the recipient of a summer promotion, leaping from Junior Soloist to Principal is one bound. It’s actually a role that involves quite a bit of standing around and, in Act II, laying of Dr Coppélius’ bed, but when called on he was both secure and dynamic, his leaps and turns all exceptionally clean, and like Kase, delivered without ease. Although his partnering was generally assured, one or two lifts did not look quite as effortless as they should have done. Like Kase, he was quite believable. It’s often the little things that matter in characterisation, and in Act I, I loved the way he kept sneaking glances at the balcony to see if the doll had returned. And even after he and Swanilda had reconciled near the end of Act I, he just couldn’t help still wondering about that ‘lady’ on the balcony, so much so that he grabs a ladder and sets off to find her, although quite why he bothered with that when the Doctor had left the front door wide open is unclear!

Michael Coleman is probably the best character actor around in British ballet these days. As Dr Coppélius, he was sharp and lively in his disgusting old tailcoat. Although traditionally seen as a somewhat eccentric doll-maker, Hynd’s having him hook Franz up to what he believes to be his doll with cables running via a strange machine that’s all whirring lights and wheels suggests more the mad scientist. For a while, the choreography rather loses its human touch.

Shiori Kase as Swanilda and Michael Coleman as Dr Coppélius in 'Coppélia'.  Photo © David Jensen

Shiori Kase as Swanilda and Michael Coleman as Dr Coppélius in ‘Coppélia’.
Photo © David Jensen

Hynd also rather overdoes the mime. While making the story clear, you can’t help feel that some of it, at least, could be as well done with dance.

In an evening of role debuts, Crystal Costa and Laurretta Summerscales made attractive first appearances as Dawn and Prayer in the Act III divertissements. The corps danced sunnily throughout.

All round, this “Coppélia” is very much a family-friendly ballet of sunny charms, helped along enormously by Desmond Heeley’s attractive designs, his sunny rococo-styled village being balanced by the dark, cavern-like interior of Dr Coppélius’ house.

Delibes’ score, full of tunes that stick, was played well by the ever-reliable English National Ballet Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland.

English National Ballet’s “Coppélia” continues at the London Coliseum to July 27. This autumn it tours to the Mayflower, Southampton (Oct 15–18), New Theatre, Oxford (Oct 28 – Nov 1) and the Bristol Hippodrome (Nov 4–8). For details, see www.ballet.org.uk.