Coppélia review: lighthearted entertainment at its best

Choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple engages a young demographic with her new, whimsical journey into Dr Coppélius' workshop, and for the most part, it works. She fast-forwards well past Coppélia's 1870s debut and reinvents this story in a 1950s State Fair in Iowa.

In the original version of Coppélia, an inventor creates a doll who fools a young man into falling for her. Ultimately, after lots of shenanigans and being chastised by his girlfriend, the suitor chooses the real live girl over the doll Coppélia and they all live happily ever after. It's lighthearted entertainment at its best. Runacre-Temple's 1950s scenario is equally far-fetched, but it allows Dr Coppélius to be an inventor of soap and cosmetics, luring glamour girls who are determined to figure out the secrets exemplified by his perfect eponymous model.

Just as in Coppélia's 19th-century premiere, this version captures the imagination as the life-sized doll (danced by Lauren Muccioli) unleashes her automated movements. Delightful surprises happen as her arms gets stuck in a repeat position and her actions mirror a re-created score that at times sounds like a skipping record.

During her 10-year affiliation with Ballet Ireland, Runacre-Temple has shown an unabashed and welcome willingness to take creative risks. Here, her quirky sense of humour emerges best during the slightly macabre Act II, where a headless mannequin pops out of a closet, dancing around Coppélius’ laboratory like an ostrich in Mary Poppins’ clothes.

In the second act, the characters coalesce nicely with Runacre-Temple’s vision, but until then some of the dancing and story appear too loosely stitched together. In Act I at the state fair, the heel-stomping is nicely executed, but with so little connection to the original story, it is hard to buy in to the bluegrass feel so early on.

Tom Lane and Rob Moloney's score combines Delibes' original music score with new material. At times disjointed, it shows real invention nearer the end as contemporary rhythms meld with 19th-century sounds. Although in this Coppélia, classical music and ballet are being tinkered with, any hiccups are overshadowed by the enthusiasm with which it is performed.

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