|Giuseppina Bozzacchi., the first Swanilde|
Which to see? Northern Ballet is almost family to me. I know many of its dancers. I take classes in its studios. Its new production received rave reviews from the Scottish press. But it is on for over a week though until yesterday nobody knew the casting. Richard Alston was in the North for only one day but Southort is not close and his company will be back. Coppélia is a ballet I know well and love and Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens were cast as Franz and Swanilde. These are two of my favourite dancers and while I had seen them individually many time before I had never before seen them dance in principal roles together. Yesterday was almost the 20th anniversary of its entering the Birmingham Royal Ballet's repertory, In the end it was the prospect of seeing two of my favourite dancers dance in one of my favourite ballets with sparkling choreography and Peter Farmer's designs that proved irresistible.
I am so glad I chose Salford because yesterday's performance was sensational. It takes a lot to get an English audience to its feet, particularly in Manchester because we Mancunians have a distressing habit of cutting the tall poppies down to size. Especially anything from Birmingham which has the preposterous temerity to claim to be the second city when everybody else acknowledges Manchester's superiority in just about everything except ballet. But there were members of the audience other than me standing and clapping at the end of the show. Not everybody it is true and the theatre was by no means full but the buzz and chatter in the foyer and on the tram back to town indicated that everybody loved the show and that we had seen the company at its best.
Why was that? Much of the credit must go to the principal dancers, Singleton and Gittens, who danced magnificently. Tall and slender and almost indecently good looking Singleton is one of the best male dancers this country has produced. Athletic and accomplished he is a thrill to watch and the choreography provides ample scope for his virtuosity. Particularly the pas de deux in the last act. Gittens was an adorable Swanilde. Spirited and feisty, how we burned with indignation as she watched her fiancé eye up the talent just before their wedding day. And how our hearts almost missed a beat as she and her mates prowled around Dr Coppélius's workshop setting off one automaton after another. Brave girl. Alone in the presence of a madman intent on sucking the life force out of the drugged and slumbering Franz she mimicked the movements of the robot wearing its clothes as she tried to revive him.
Yesterday morning I had tweeted:
@CelineGittens and @ty_sing are two favourites but I've never seen them dance principal roles together. I think they'll be sensational.And indeed they were but so was everybody else. Maureya Lebowitz (another favourite as you can see from my review of her Lise in La Fille mal gardée) was a gorgeously sexy gypsy. Small wonder that Franz could not keep her eyes off her. Samara Downs, Angela Paul, Feargus Campbell and Mathias Dingman danced a great mazurka and czárdás in Act I. Rory Mackay was a fine burgomeister and Jonathan Payn a doughty publican rescuing poor old Dr Coppélius from his muggers.
— Terpsichore (@jelterps) March 5, 2015
Act III is one long divertissement around the tolling of the bell - hence the title Dance of the Hours. Brandon Lawrence, yet another favourite, danced Father Time, Karla Doorbar Dawn, Yijing Zhang Prayer, Ruth Brill (one of three very special dancers in different companies who are not yet principals but who nevertheless somehow make my spirits soar) led Work, Laura Purkis and Max Maslen danced Betrothal and Oliver Till led War.
But the character who dances in all three Acts and holds the ballet together is Dr Coppélius. His role was performed brilliantly by Valentin Olovyannikov. Coppélius is a complex character - part villain, part clown, part victim - brilliant but just a little mad, tragic but in the end redeemed riding immediately behind the happy couple on the cart as they and the bell leave the stage. Olovyannikov portrayed his character beautifully.
Having seen English National Ballet's Coppélia in Oxford recently I thought I might compare them but I can't because they are such different works and I can't say that I like one more than the other. Each production has its own strengths and delights and in each company there are some very special dancers. Coppélia is not danced anything like as often as it should be because it has an interesting plot and stunning choreography. The ballet going public have been treated this year to two magnificent productions.