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Review: Coppélia at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC

Review by Gemma Keliher


Greg Horsman’s Coppélia is not the ballet as you might know it. Based after Arthur Saint-Léon & Marius Petipa, Horsman’s version was first performed in 2014, as a co-production of Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet. Tradition remains with Léo Delibes’ music scoring the performance, beautifully played by Queensland Symphony Orchestra under their Conductor Nigel Gaynor, however, Horsman’s modern twists are evident from the moment the curtain rises. Much of the three-act story remains largely unchanged: a life-like and bewitching doll, created by Dr Coppélius, attracts the attention of the young Swanhilda and her love Franz. Both mistaking the doll, Coppélia, to be real, Franz becomes enamoured with it, while Swanhilda becomes upset over his lacking loyalty. After both gaining entry to Dr Coppélius’ home, mayhem quickly ensues after Swanhilda pretends to be the doll come to life, both fooling the Dr and saving Franz from peril. The final Act ends happily, with Franz and Swanhilda reunited in their love, and the village rejoicing. 


Rather than showcasing a traditional European village, Horsman has adapted the story to a very familiar setting – Australia. This results in a beautiful blending of cultures, with the ballet now being set in a small German settled village called Hahndorf, South Australia. The stark Australian outback is not a setting you might envision for a ballet, but I welcomed the change of scenery and the interesting historical significance. The muted tones of Hugh Colman’s set gave focus to Noelene Hill’s costumes, as the vivid colours and patterns stood out against the brown and blue hues of the Australian landscape, aided by Jon Buswell’s lighting design. The bookend Acts gave us realistic details such as the eucalyptus trees and magpie perched on the balcony, whereas Act II brought us a little into the fantasy with strange machinery verging into sci-fi, and doll parts crudely strung around that came to life in an entertaining way. 


Speaking of entertainment, was the specifically Australian incorporation of the town’s winning AFL team, dressed appropriately in Hahndorf Football Club’s black and white stripes. Witnessing AFL moves translated into ballet was equal parts fascinating and comedic, and perhaps proved a great example of why there are nets over the orchestra pit. While the synchronisation wasn’t as strong as later moments, I must commend the Queensland Ballet dancers on blending the skills of multiple sports. Horsman’s choreography also incorporated German-inspired dances that nodded to the town’s heritage, such as a knee slapping Schuhplattler. 


Creating a strong narrative foundation that supported the choreography was clearly also at the top of Horsman’s list of changes. The addition of a prelude, providing a backstory to Dr Coppélius and his reasoning for creating a life-like doll in the first place, was set up briefly by dancers and detailed by a projected animation. It was fitting choice that gave a nice amount to depth to an otherwise comedic narrative that relies on suspension of disbelief.  Rather than appearing as a mad or magical inventor, Dr Coppélius was now grief-stricken father, desperate for science to bring his daughter back in the form of a doll mirrored in her image. This gave Vito Bernasconi more to play with in the role, and he showed great range moving between comedic moments and the now more emotionally charged scenes, while demonstrating consistently strong physical characterisations. 


Chiara Gonzalez was a lively Swanhilda, who’s shining moment was during her masquerade as the doll Coppélia coming to life. Her realistic doll like movements impressed the audience, and she navigated well through changing styles within the choreography. Her work with Patricio Revé, as Franz, provided many comedic moments as they navigated their tumultuous romance, and culminated in a beautiful Grand Pas de deux in the final moments. Revé was outstanding during his solos, but his technique and musicality was impressive through every scene. Laura Tosar as the Scottish friend Mary McTaggart brought a great deal of personality to her performance and shared in the comedy with a particularly funny scene in Act with her character’s love interest Henry, played by Alexander Idaszak. Isabella Swietlicki made a sweet Liesl, who garnered laughter from the skittish moments upon unwittingly sneaking into Dr Coppélius’ house. The chaos within the house was wildly entertaining, and equally impressive with some life size dolls brought to life, who were scarily realistic in their movements. I favoured any moment that had the friends together, with Kaho Kato, Heidi Freeman, Libby-Rose Niederer, and Alisa Pukkinen joining Gonzalez, Tosar, and Swietlicki, as together they were clean and crisp. 


 Queensland Ballet’s Coppélia is certainly very narrative heavy with the additional material but remains an enjoyable and fun production that is full of emotion and laughter. Most importantly, this production of Coppélia an impressive showcase of the talent that continues to grace our Brisbane stages. 

Image Supplied

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