Thursday, 12 December 2019

Coppelia in the Cinema

Standard YouTube Licence 

Royal Ballet Coppelia Royal Opera House and Cinemas 10 Dec 2019 19:30

For me, this conversation between Merle Park, Darcey Bussell and Marianela Nuñez was the high point of Tuesday's live screening of Coppelia. Park was at the height of her career when I first took an interest in ballet.   I saw her many times in many toles and admired her greatly.  It was good to see her again after many years and even better to see her name on a cast sheet again as one of the principal coaches.

There were other interesting discussions during on Tuesday night.  The conductor, Barry Wordsworth, spoke about the score. The wardrobe mistress explained how technology had transformed costume preparation and maintenance over the years.  At one time the flower on a bodice had to be painted by hand.  Nowadays it can be printed out by computer.  Members of the corps spoke about rehearsals and how their ballet master coaxed our their best  Those conversations are the one big advantage of live streaming,  Even though Bussell said on Tuesday (as has been said before) that the cinema audience have the best seats in the house it is not really true.  Ballet is three-dimensional and screens can only accommodate two and there can be no two-way communication between artists and audience as there is in theatre.  The insights that can be gleaned from conversations and interviews.

Nuñez danced Swanilda on Tuesday and I think that is a role that suits her well.  I had long admired her virtuosity in roles like Kitri but I had never seen her bring a character to life in the way she did in that performance.  Coquettish and playful but also with a heart.  Her facial expressions when the Burgermeister tried to reconcile her and Franz after she had caught him flirting with the robot in the window of Dr Coppelius's workshop.

The principal male role in Coppelia is not really Franz who saves his entrechats and tours en l'air to the very end but the inventor, Dr Coppelius.  A lot of people think he is too much over the top but having run inventors clubs and pro bono patent clinics in the North of England for nearly 20 years I can testify that folk like Dr Coppelius really do exist.  Gary Avis, a brilliant character dancer, represented him perfectly.

I have to say that I am not really sure about the morality of this ballet.  It seems to celebrate elder abuse. It surely can't be right for the local toughs to rough up the old body on his way to the pub. Or for ladettes to break into his laboratory and set off his robots as they make their escape.  Or indeed for Franz to climb into his premises through the window.  Or, worst of all, Swanilda tearing pages out of his lab books.  Never mind!  The old chap is compensated at the end, albeit by the local aristocrat and not by Swanilda.  And he is generous enough to raise a glass to Franz and Swanilda at their wedding,

Although Arthur Saint-Léon who created the ballet in 1870 may not have envisaged it, the interaction of humans with humanoid robots is very much a topic for our times.  At two recent conferences, one on copyright last week and the other on life sciences the week before, there were no less than five presentations on artificial intelligence and whether a machine can invent things for which patents can granted or create works of art in which copyright subsists.

Returning to the ballet, Vadim Muntagirov danced Franz with his usual flair and grace.  In the first act, I enjoyed Mayara Magri's peasant dance.  In the dance of the hours, Claire Calvert was a delightful Aurora and Annette Buvoli an angelic Prayer.  I must also congratulate Mica Bradbury Isabella GaspariniHannah Grennell, Meaghan Grace HinkisRomany Pajdak and Leticia Stock who danced Swanilda's friends.  They are on stage almost as long as Swanilda herself and their dancing is barely less demanding. At one point in the first act, they have to follow each movement of Swanilda exactly.  In the transmission, Nuñez traced the start of her career in Coppelia to her first performance as one of Swanilda's friends and it is obvious why.

This was one of the Royal Opera House's better live streamings.  In this show, the programme maker made much better use of Darcey Bussell.  The Royal Opera transmissions are still not quite as good as the Bolshoi's and they won't be until they engage a presenter as knowledgeable and personable as Ekaterina Novikova. But it was still a good show.

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