Birmingham Royal Ballet: Coppélia

Birmingham Hippodrome
October 26, 2022

After all the excitement of the previous week’s company and world premieres, Birmingham Royal Ballet showed they can still turn on the style in the company’s heritage works as they delivered a sparkling performance of Sir Peter Wright’s much-loved Coppélia.

Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens bring elegance and class to Peter Farmer’s Rhineland village. Celine Gittens brings a twinkling eye and a sense of mischief to Swanilda. She’s not as feisty as some, though. Her Act I strop when Franz’s ever-wandering eye sees the Coppélia doll and later when he dances with the other women never feels like it’s going to last long. As her beau, Franz, Tyrone Singleton is full of easy-going charm. It’s impossible not to fall for both of them.

Michael O’Hare brings the toy maker, Dr Coppélius, to life. The production does paint the character very lightly, however. In contrast to most modern productions that tend to put more emphasis on the character, the suggestion here is that he’s nothing more than an innocent eccentric. There’s no hint as to who he really is, his backstory, or why he creates a lifelike doll. There’s certainly no feeling sorry for him when he realises his Coppélia has not really come to life.

Céline Gittens as Swanilda in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Coppélia
Photo Bill Cooper

The three leads were backed up beautifully by the corps, who danced Wright’s ensemble numbers with vibrancy. While dances are happening, it’s also sometimes worth glancing to the sides. The way Swanilda’s friends were investigating the contents of a tankard as it passed between them, one drinking from it very enthusiastically indeed, was one of the funniest moments of the evening, yet I suspect missed by most.

With the story pretty much done and dusted by the second interval, Act III is given over to set-piece dances. It has to be said that, given all that’s gone before, it’s not desperately exciting, despite the allure of Miki Mizutani’s Dawn and Yijing Zhang’s Prayer. But there are two impressive exceptions. The first comes with the breathless and energetic Call to Arms, a powerful ensemble number for the men that sees them leap and turn dazzlingly.

And then there’s the big pas de deux. It’s here that Gittens and Singleton showed their technical prowess. Both turned on the style, whether in their super turns, her so delicate hops en pointe, or his exuberant, fine leaps, especially in the manège. They really were a joy to behold.

I’ll freely admit that this Coppélia is not my favourite ballet. After the fizz of Act I, it does slow noticeably. I also find it far too twee and sugary, and maybe I’ve seen the jokes too many times. But you can’t argue with the dancing. It was all quite outstanding, with that pas de deux the icing on the cake.

Coppélia is at the Birmingham Hippodrome to October 29, 2022.

Birmingham Royal Ballet then perform the Into the Music triple bill at London’s Sadler’s Wells from November 2-5.