Thursday, 20 April 2017

CinemaLive's Coppelia

YouTube Standard Licence

The Australian Ballet, Coppelia, 12 Dec 2016, Sydney Opera House

Yesterday, I sacrificed my Wednesday evening ballet class at Northern Ballet Academy to see a performance of Coppelia by the Australian Ballet that had been recorded at the Sydney Opera House on 12 Dec 2016. Because of the time difference between Sydney and Leeds I did not expect it to be a live performance. We or the Australian performers and audience would have to get up at some unearthly hour for that to be possible and what would be the point as it would still be images on a screen rather than the interaction between artist and audience which make live performances so precious. Nevertheless, I did expect it to be more like an encore screening of a live performance by say Pathé Live or the Royal Opera House rather than just another ballet film.

The film was distributed by CinemaLive which describes itself on its About Us page as "leading producers and distributors of Event Cinema, reaching thousands of screens worldwide, allowing fans to see world-class music, theatre, opera, arts and other special live events at their local cinema." The company was founded in 2008 and holds a number of industry records including the highest grossing music event at the British and Irish box office which happened to be André Rieu: Christmas with André. Although CinemaLive resisted the temptation to flood the screen with gushing twitter messages and irritating presenters that mar other some of their competitors' transmissions they still have a lot to learn about filming ballet.

The screening started with an aerial view of Sydney with the camera zooming into the Opera House followed by a greeting from Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo who danced Swanilda and Franz in the performance. After a few words from each of them, they turned and walked towards the theatre arm in arm at one point. We saw them again in the interval when the artistic director, David McAllister and others spoke about the importance of Coppelia in the history of the company. McAllister explained that the ballet was the last work that the late Peggy van Praagh had created for the company. One of those who had helped to stage the ballet in 1979 spoke of the applause on the first night with the observation that "they seemed to like it."

Not everyone likes the story of Coppelia but I do, possibly because it is an early essay on the social consequences of robotics and artificial intelligence. Birmingham Royal Ballet has a great Coppelia (see Sensational 6 March 2015) which I am glad to see that it is re-staging at Birmingham and Bristol in June and July (see the company's website). So, too, does English National Ballet (see Coppelia in Oxford 2 Nov 2014). But I think my favourite is Ted Brandsen's where Zwaantje (Swanilde) works in a juice bar, Franz in a gym, Dr Coppelius runs a chain of beauty clinics and Coppelia has to do more than read a book and make a few jerky movements (see Brandsen's Coppelia 12 Dec 2016).

Van Praagh's Coppelia is of the traditional kind set in Galicia with lots of peasant dancing and a pageant staged for the presentation of a new bell. One interesting feature that I noticed in van Praagh's version was that Dr Coppelius possessed some kind of hypnotic power that reduced Franz to his knees in act I. All the rest of the story was there including the listening to the ear of corn for a rattle. The only bit that does not appear in the Australian story is the burgomaster's compensating Dr Coppelius for the wrecking of his laboratory and his invitation to the wedding reception.

Kondo and Guo danced well in the performance, particularly the pas de deux in the last act. I do not recall seeing them in either Cinderella or Swan Lake when the Australian Ballet visited London last year (see Ratmansky's Razzamatazz  24 July 2016 and The Australian Ballet's Swan Lake - Murphy won me over 17 July 2016). The absence of a cast list with more than three names on it (one of the many things CinemaLive has to learn) means that I cannot be sure whom I saw in the recording but I think I recognized Robyn Hendricks who had danced Odette in Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake in Prayer. The Australian Ballet is a magnificent company with an abundance of talent that shone through despite everything yesterday evening.

I have a very soft spot for Australia having spent three glorious holidays there during which time I attended an opera at the Sydney Opera House and a concert at the Melbourne Arts Centre.  There is a great appetite for the arts in Australia and an almost evangelical zeal to bring them to every Bruce and Sheila in the outback as well as the great opera houses of the world. Some of my best teachers have been trained in Australia and an attribute that they have in common is an exceptional eye for detail. There are fine companies in Brisbane and Perth as well as the Australian Ballet. My colleague Amelia Sierevogel is about to start a work placement with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera as part of her degree course in costume design at Huddersfield. She has promised us reviews and articles on her adventures on the other side of the world.

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