[Reviewed on 18 March 2017. This article was originally written for and published on the Straits Times (print edition).]
Coppelia is a fluffy confection of a ballet, a light-hearted piece that combines comedy and pantomime with classical dance. It tells the story of two young lovers, Swanilda and Franz. Their road to the altar is threatened by Franz’s affection for a mysterious girl in the balcony – Coppélia – who turns out to be a doll. Hijinks and mayhem ensue. Never mind that Franz might be faithless or one of the least intelligent people ever (or needs to get his eyesight checked, at minimum), it’s all in good fun and everyone gets a a happy ending. Coppélia is a piece well-suited for the Singapore Dance Theatre—not particularly demanding in terms of gravitas or grandeur, and the dancers have fun hamming it up onstage. Chihiro Uchida as Swanilda leads a pack of village girls to discover Coppélia’s true identity, giggling and scheming and solemnly swearing they are up to no good the whole way through, enchanting the audience in the process.
As Swanilda, Uchida is sweet and mischievous, but never churlish, with a smile like a sunbeam one moment and a girlish sulk of frustration the next—but who can blame her, when her boyfriend was considering two-timing her with an inanimate object. Her Swanilda improvises her way out of sticky situations and moves through life without much contemplation, which makes her a good match for the shallow Franz. She may be the more ingenious of the pair, but between them they have as much depth of character as a children’s paddling pool.
Kenya Nakamura, Uchida’s real-life fiancé, makes a decent effort at channelling the playful, callow Franz, but seems too much of a solemn fellow to embrace the slapstick nature of the piece and act to the back of the audience. Nonetheless, he is a solid partner for Uchida and a reliable technician. After finishing a pas de deux in the Third Act that was a bit hard-going for them towards the end, Nakamira and Uchida charmingly exchanged smiles of relief—‘we got through that!’ It’s a reminder of just how much work it takes to make a ballet look beautiful.
Artistic Director Janek Schergen (performing under the pseudonym ‘Yann Ek’), cast himself as the dollmaker Dr. Coppélius, but is the weak link in the ballet—here, Dr. Coppélius is neither wretched enough to be villainous, funny enough to be endearing, nor pitiful enough to be sympathetic. He’s just an old man with a questionable fetish for life-size dolls—Coppélia in particular. It makes the famous Act II pas de deux between himself and Swanilda (masquerading as Coppélia) more than a little uncomfortable. Happily, Dr Coppélius is quickly placated with money in the Third Act and disappears so that more dancing can ensue.
There are some moments of virtuosity in Coppelia: the requisite bravura dance passages and demanding codas designed to thrill audiences, but Coppelia is not a ballet of pyrotechnics. It’s a sweet, silly evening of classical dance that will put a smile on your face.