Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Coppelia for our Times

Author Jean Raoux  Pygmalion in Love with his Statue

A show to which I am particularly looking forward is Jess and Morgs's Coppelia for Scottish Ballet.  It will be premiered at next year's Edinburgh International Festival and then go on tour. It is described as a "deliciously dark comedy of mischief and mistaken identity, reinvented for the digital age." It addresses the question: "What happens when you fall in love with a machine? How can we compete with the perfection of the unreal?"

The idea of a human being falling in love with an artefact is not a new one.  I remember translating the story of Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses as an unseen when I was at secondary school. The reason why that story is relevant now is that it is possible to create a robot with some human and animnal characteristics.  In Japan, robots that respond to touch, sound and light are already being used in nursing homes (see Don Lee Desperate for workers, aging Japan turns to robots for healthcare 25 July 2019 LA Times). 

In Saint-Léon's ballet, Franz's infatuation for a doll that sits on a balcony all day holding a book upside down is secondary.  The love story is between Franz and Swanhilda although one wonders just how long that marriage will last if Franz is already eyeing other women, breaking into Coppelius's workshop and accepting a drink from the old boy he has just burgled and whom he had previously roughed up on his way to the pub. What will he be like when he is in his forties and Swanhikda's left at home to look after the kids?

Jess and Morgs's production should be different.  It promises to "test the boundaries of dance, theatre and film in this distinctive new adaptation of the classic ballet, blending location and real-time filming with projection and live performance." Jess and Morgs have already produced The Secret Theatre which I reviewed in Scottish Ballet's Secret Theatre on 22 Dec 2020. They have also created Cinderella Games for English National Ballet based on the ballet that Christopher Wheeldon created for the Dutch National Ballet and English National Ballet.  They discuss their work for ENB on Chat with the Creatives: Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple | English National Ballet 14 July 2020.

It is interesting that Jess and Morgs describe themselves as film makers and choreographers.  The pandemic has brought a lot of suffering but there have been a few compensations. One of those is the development of dance film as an art form in its own right.  It is to be hoped that that development continues when the emergency is over.

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