Coppelia

Thu 10th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

James Tibbles

at 10:11 on 20th Aug 2017

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Coppelia is deeply uncomfortable for all the right reasons. The Feathers of Daedalus Circus are an emerging contemporary circus company that transgresses all convention in genre, style and gender. Combining ballet, circus, film and spoken word, Joanna Vymeris pioneers an eccentric re-telling of a 19th Century comic ballet about male desire and the construction of femininity.

Naturally, ballet is the base for the choreography, but an infusion of circus acrobatics and film creates a visual feast for the eyes. Sharp, mechanical gestures establish an effective disjunction between ballet and contemporary dance as a chorus of ballerinas seem to thwart the pressures of the ballet world and comment on the construction of clock-work Coppelia. An acrobatic routine between Dr Coppelias (Josh Frazer) and Coppelia (Tessa Blackman) stands out as a power struggle between an idealised woman and her creator, and asserts the boundary-breaking premise of this production. The simple gesture of Coppelia lifting her male creator is demonstrative of the strength and power involved in dance – an industry that has historically been undermined by a lack of appreciation for its physical demands. A smattering of audience applause only confirmed the artists’ impressive acrobatic skill.

The love-story of a gutsy Swanhilda (Gabbie Cook) and youthful Franz (Peter Shirley) imbues the narrative with a poignant thread, opening with a light 40s-inspired duet which allowed the show to build dramatically to Swanhilda’s heroic struggle to rescue Franz. Cook and Shirley stand out in strength and energy as they use a Chinese pole and Cyr wheel in acrobatic sequences that never once become gimmicky. It must be said, however, that while the circus elements of this show are unique, more attention could be paid to characterisation which was sometimes lost in the formality of the acrobatics.

The show is equally an aural spectacle, combining an eclectic mix of musical genres with powerful spoken word. Sophie Leseberg Smith’s poetry provides a glimpse into the internal monologue of the characters. Particularly poignant is an insight into the mind of Swanhilda whose disintegrating relationship with Franz leads her to assert you “push me out of my own skin”. The concept is not just about the external demands of the male gaze, but the internal pressures of love and desire, and how it challenges Swanhilda’s sense of identity. It is both indulgently abstract and compellingly human.

Yet, Vymeris’ direction, although intriguing, is perhaps too post-modern for its own good. While the narrative is linear and cohesive, disjointed scenes and amateurishly mixed music suggests a slight neglect to detail. In trying to transgress the boundaries of style, the quality of dance was sometimes compromised, but this could easily have been down to a slightly claustrophobic stage space – granted, fouettés are an impossibly advanced ballet step (I know, I’ve tried).

Most importantly, however, this theatrical funhouse of circus and ballet fits perfectly into the fringe. Copellia is an intelligent exploration of a concept that is entirely relevant and defies convention in content and style. It is a must see for anyone looking for something new and exciting.

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Constance Kampfner

at 13:59 on 20th Aug 2017

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Entering the velvety gloom of the Palais du Variété, a sense of the magical envelops the audience and remains present throughout the hour long performance of ‘Coppelia’. The story is that of Dr Coppelias (Josh Fraser), the frustrated owner of a toyshop and his creation, Coppelia (Tessa Blackman), the mechanical doll which becomes the incarnation of all his most desperate desires. The doctor’s hopes of bringing the doll to life are put in jeopardy when young Franz (Peter Shirley) spots the creation through the window of the toyshop, becoming equally infatuated by this symbol of idealised femininity. This debut production by The Feathers of Daedalus Circus is a powerful display of love, lust and jealousy.

The show reinvents this 19th century ballet combining elements of circus, dance, spoken word, film and gymnastics. Rather than jarring with one another, these seemingly clashing mediums are beautifully interwoven, as a piece of classical ballet will seamlessly morph into modern dance, whilst the overlaying music transforms itself into breathless poetry. Indeed, the delicate handling of these interconnecting art forms becomes a metaphor for the clockwork doll at the centre of the tale, with each part of the production coming together to breathe a life like no other into the performance.

There are moments, however, in which it becomes evident that the company are dancers first and foremost, and where the vocal energy and acting ability of the chorus-cum-narrators somewhat struggles to match up to the power of their dancing abilities. This vocal issue is particularly noticeable in contrast with the booming recorded poetry, and frustratingly some simple miking could have easily have helped in this area.

Yet what is lost in live speech is made up for in Joanna Vymersis’s stunning choreography. The talent of all six performers is noticeable throughout; their precision and stamina never seems to falter. Blackman produces some particularly beautiful aerial work, spinning and dancing in a hoop just out of reach of the male voyeurs. Shirley, who spins around inside his hoop below as he intensely surveys the doll, becomes a perfect parallel image of frustrated male desire. Meanwhile in a more grotesque display, Dr Coppelias is seen to lift his doll solely by the mouth, an uncomfortable – yet impressive – moment of total physical domination.

Coppelia also has a mind of her own, as she lifts and manipulates Fraser’s character, creating an ambiguity as to who is really pulling the strings. Often it is the most mechanised figures who appear the most human, and the human the most doll-like, subtly questioning the authenticity of our most innate behaviour and desires. “I’m less a woman, less a woman” cries Swanhilda (Gabbie Cook) as she comes face to face with her mechanical competitor.

This re-imagination of ‘Coppelia’ is a spectacle of jaw-dropping beauty infused with modern relevance, resulting in a wonderfully thought provoking performance. Not one to miss.

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