Thursday, May 13, 2010

Traditional Grace

Last night Jody and I took in a traditional ballet at the Sydney Opera House. Coppelia is full of village charm, graceful movement, magic, gorgeous costumes and living dolls.

Dr Coppelius is a secretive pensioner living in a small village, and everyone wants to know what he's up to. Franz, a young man engaged to village girl Swanilda, is distracted by a lovely figure on Dr Coppelius' balcony. Swanilda is none too pleased when she finds her fiance mooning over Coppelia, posturing below her balcony with a bunch of flowers.

Soon afterward, the doctor (who is, in reality, an alchemist) locks up and leaves his house on an errand. The village boys rough him up but are unable to get his key. Coppelius heaves a sigh of relief and wipes his brow with his handkerchief - dropping his key, which was wrapped inside the cloth, in the process. He doesn't notice, but Swanilda does, and she snatches it up with glee. Meanwhile Franz runs off to find a ladder to lean against the upstairs window.

The seven village girls sneak into the house and discover a room filled with life-sized dolls. Cautiously they look around, and find that some can be prodded into movement. (At first I assumed at least some were props, but they were all dancers - eight of them - and able to sit or stand remarkably still! Throughout Act 2 they 'came to life' and danced like rag dolls, robots, a jack in the box or a windup toy.) Coppelia is discovered in a cabinet at the centre of the room, and her jerky movements remind one of a puppet on strings, but she is lovely nonetheless.

Coppelius arrives in a fury and chases the girls out - all but Swanilda, who hides in the cabinet with the alchemist's "daughter." Franz tumbles through the window, and Coppelius drugs him and pins him to a large wheel. Franz is spun around and around, unconscious of the spell being worked on him. The alchemist believes he can make Coppelia come to life and be a true daughter to him, if only she has a soul, and he tries to take Franz's from him.

The cabinet is opened and the audience is sure of Swanilda's discovery - but she has disguised herself in the doll's clothes, and begins to move as she saw Coppelia move earlier. She fools the alchemist, and dances for him as he attempts to transfer Franz's soul to her. The other dolls come to life and Swanilda uses the confusion to try and free her fiance. Eventually he recovers, and the two are reunited. Dr Coppelius is heartbroken that his daughter has not truly come to life, and the scene closes.

The final act involves a lot of group dances as the villagers rejoice in Franz and Swanilda's marriage. Aside from the second act's superb doll dance, the third act held my (and Jody's) favourite number - 12 lovely ballerinas in midnight blue tutus, beautifully in sync and as traditional as you please. Later in the act, nearly the whole cast took part - 35 dancers filled the stage in a country dance. I can't imagine what it would have felt like to be part of that company.

The costumes were fantastic, and even from our position (six rows from the back, in the centre of the upper-level Circle seating) we could see that tremendous attention to detail had been paid. There was tulle and ribbon everywhere, and a great deal of pastels. The sets were just as spectacular, giving off old-world charm. Dancers were supported by a strong and talented orchestra. Don't you just love the jumbled sound of strings and horns that signals the performance is about to start?

It’s lovely to live in a city where I can take advantage of the cultural offerings. Jody and I very much enjoyed our evening out, and it was a memorable way to celebrate our third anniversary.

*Picture from Sydney Opera House website, as photography was not allowed. Coppelia runs from the 4th-22nd of May 2010, includes matinees, and is suitable for family viewing.
The storyline is based on my interpretation of the performance I attended. I'm sure there are numerous sites with other synopses, but this is mine.


Nathan Pralle said...

Congratulations on your anniversary, first of all -- always good to celebrate a milestone.

The ballet sounds lovely; I rarely have the opportunity around here to take in such a thing and almost nobody to go with (most definitely not the wifey's thing) so I've never seen a "true" ballet before. But, someday, someday, I think.

Julia G said...

Thanks for the good wishes - I can't believe how fast the years have gone. I think my favourite ballet is either Swan Lake, or Giselle. Manon is also beautiful. So many ballet storylines are sad though!
If you guys come to Sydney this year I will go with you!


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