The Stanislavsky Ballet in Coppelia. Photo Stanislavsky Ballet

The Stanislavsky Ballet in Coppelia. Photo Stanislavsky Ballet

London Coliseum; July 12, 2013

Jessica Wilson

In London for four nights only, the publicity for Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet’s presentation of Roland Petit’s “Coppélia” relied much on the pull of Sergei Polunin. On this evening, though, he had a night off and Franz was danced by Dmitry Sobolevsky, who, despite finding fantastic height in his jetés and easily securing his double tours, sadly paled in comparison to both the energetic corps and Anton Domashev’s excellent Dr. Coppélius.

Set in a garrison town, Petit’s “Coppélia” offers a fairly modern take on a true classic, while still injecting bursts of humour into the choreography and evoking a sense of intrigue regarding the nature of Dr Coppélius’ intent. But while the dancers’ technique was flawless rousing enough, there was not much naturalism or sense of ease from the ultimately ‘Barbie and Ken’ leads. Much of the action appeared too staged, though, and there was a lack of personal engagement with the plot by the dancers. Natalia Somova in particular was rather wooden in her approach to the dual role of Swanhilda/doll. Her fixed expression became rather tedious and uninspiring although she certainly showed nimble feet and elastic legs.

Whilst not unenjoyable, this version dismisses much of Act 3 from the proceedings and omits or glosses over some of the moments usually considered integral to the plot. The Ear of Corn pas de deux, for example, passes without any corn, the chosen movement unfortunately ignoring one of the most poignant and telling parts of the score where Swanhilda discovers Franz does not love her.

The presence of the corps and Dr Coppélius prevented the work from disappearing completely, however. Domashev truly commanded Act 2, leading the audience into his dinner date with Coppélia; a far cry from his usual unnerving loneliness which is often conveyed in other versions. A suave and slicked-back gentleman, his pre-dinner dance with his doll was an entertaining and effective comic ‘pas de deux.’ Domashev was grand in his theatrical gestures and rather likeable, even turning his disagreement with Franz in into a satisfying duet of witty consequence. As convincing as his characterisation and enthusiasm was though, the question as to why he made his doll remained unanswered.

The corps (soldiers and their ladies rather than villagers) were very convincing. In Act 1, they provided some much needed life and enthusiastic relief into the otherwise lethargic proceedings. They were a stark contrast to Swanhilda and her simplistic, baby-faced and rather twee girlfriends. They showed individuality, which was a refreshing wash of narrative illusion and in stark contrast to the technically excellent but dramatically unconvincing one given by Franz and Swanhilda. The Mazurka and Czardas were filled with enthusiastic heel clips, humour and character. The dancers’ lively portrayals brought the stage to life. Living up to their lead, the male members of the corps executed clean double tours simultaneously.

Elsewhere in Act 2, Sobolevsky became much more watchable and even passionate; a distinct improvement in his seemingly half-heartedness earlier in the evening. He went on to perform his solos with increased enthusiasm and an almost regal command of the stage. He is an excellent turner and there was plenty of elevation in his jetés. Somova’s Spanish and Scottish solos managed to look flashy and neat, although they are hardly too taxing.

For a Coppélia first timer, Petit’s light-hearted and humorous approach might make an ideal as an introduction to the production. The choreography is a clear step away from that of the classic production, and does bring a different vitality to the work. Those familiar with the more traditional versions will find much of the dance unpredictable, although I could have done with less of the rather tiresome cutesy wiggling from Swanhilda and her friends. There are gaps in the plot, though, and that’s where it is unfulfilling. Having said that, the cast embraced the choreography with intent and commitment, and both Sobolevsky and Somova’s performances did lend themselves to the production’s relatively restricted narrative.