Saturday, 13 July 2013

Coppélia

Coppélia, Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, London Coliseum - reviewed on 11th July
Kristina Shapran and Sergei Polunin
Photo: E Fetisova
Coppélia certainly isn't one of my favourite works, as it's so very silly, but a bit of frivolity is fun from time to time and I do enjoy the Royal Ballet's version, choreographed by Ninette de Valois (after Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti). But alas, in the hands of Roland Petit, the ballet becomes nothing more than a pantomime, and a bad one at that. (In fact, my companion and I discussed its horrors in the interval. Then, when she repeatedly chuckled and seemed thoroughly engaged in Act II, I asked her what had brought about her change of heart. She replied: "I'm thinking of it as a pantomime and now I'm enjoying it.")

Perhaps I am missing the point; I, and probably most of the audience, was not there just to see Coppélia. I was there, of course, for Ukrainian star Sergei Polunin, who has a remarkable talent that has become unfortunately overshadowed by his repeated last-minute disappearances from productions. And if I were to judge the performance on Polunin alone, then it was a roaring success.

Kristina Shapran and Anton Domashev
Photo: E Fetisova
The problem is that there was very little to like apart from Polunin. His effortless pirouettes and leaps will always excite, but partner Kristina Shapran was decidedly wooden and cold onstage. (This, incidentally, made her surprisingly effective when briefly in the guise of a mechanical doll.) The corps de ballet have dull, repetitive and strange choreography, with 'slutty' girls continuously wiggling their bottoms, flashing their knickers and kissing every man in sight. The male corps fare little better (apart from gaining these many kisses), forced to perform numerous sequences of stamping and small two-footed jumps. 

The saving grace came in the form of toy-maker Anton Domashev. He created an engaging portrait of a man desperate for love, with a slightly sinister passion for dolls that reminded me of several Channel 4 documentaries. He was tragic, humorous and endearing - always acting with the right level of necessary 'crazy magician' exaggeration and interacting cleverly with his bizarre array of life-size props. 

With the exception of Domashev, Polunin was the metaphorical 'diamond in the rough'. Since he left the Royal Ballet last year, he's had more freedom to choose his hours, dancing partners and repertoire, but he lacks a superb company behind him onstage to match his prowess. If he continues performing in sub-standard productions like this, I shall soon cease wishing to see him perform. And I wonder if other Polunin fans will feel the same.

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