Sublime Siberians

Copp�lia, music by Delibes, presented by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Regent Theatre Ipswich, Wednesday, January 28.

Copp�lia, music by Delibes, presented by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Regent Theatre Ipswich, January 28.

Copp�lia is the ultimate feel good ballet, set in a sunny Middle-European village filled with happy and contented peasants, who, without a care for any real-world recession, divide their time between dancing the odd mazurka and teasing the funny old local toymaker.

It's certainly the world's most famous comedy ballet, its reputation assured by Leo Delibes' charming score of lilting waltzes and jolly folk dances, and, it was with a perfect sense of timing, in the midst of chilly and miserable winter, that the talented young company from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, brought their delightful production to the Regent as part of a three-night stay.

As soon as the mazurka that forms the ballet's overture, played magnificently by the company's own orchestra under musical director Anatoly Tchepurnoi, is done, we are straight in to the story. Swanhilda, the most popular girl in the village, is in love with Franz, the most popular boy, but he is smitten by Copp�lia , the pretty girl who, everyday, sits reading on the balcony of Dr Coppelius the toymaker's house. This being a ballet, of course, no-one can shout, “It's a puppet!”, although her odd, mechanical movements should really have been a giveaway. Franz clearly isn't blessed with the greatest intelligence, although he can shake a good leg in a czardas. One evening, when Coppelius is out, Swanhilda steals into his house to confront her rival. At the same time Franz climbs onto the balcony hoping for a nigh time tryst. They soon discover the truth about Copp�lia, but the fun really begins when the toymaker returns unexpectedly.

Lovely, dark-eyed Anna Aulle made a very fetching Swanhilda, her dancing secure and refined; a delight to watch. Ivan Karnaukhov made feckless Franz a very likeable lad, only too happy to oblige his girlfriend by waving her over his head or hoisting her onto his shoulder. He proved to be a strong soloist, too, with a light jump and plenty of bounce in his solo. Aulle and Karnaukhov not only danced beautifully, but clearly relished their comedy moments together. One of the biggest laughs of the evening came when she floored him with an almighty slap round the face.

Artistic Director Sergei Bobrov's new staging bursts with colour and movement, and, for the most part, the comedy comes across well. Only the middle scene, in the toymaker's workshop, usually the comic high spot, disappointed. Here, Swanhilda, disguised as Copp�lia, tricks the Doctor in believing his creation really has come alive. Much of the business I've seen in other productions was omitted, and it didn't help that Alexander Kuimov's playing of Dr Coppelius was rather bland, lacking the grotesque combination of the sinister, comic and pathetic that the role really demands.

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The evening ends with a glorious blast of pure dance, as Swanhilda and Franz are wedded in the village square and everyone gets to perform a party piece. Designer Dmitry Tcherbadzhi has excelled himself here, as the whole company of nearly 40 dancers are arrayed in the most stunningly colourful costumes. The festivities are presided over by the Burgomeister (Arkady Zinov), who, it comes as no surprise, is a fine dancer himself. Zinov's dancing is a plush as the red velvet of his suit. To round off the plot, a now reconciled Dr Coppelius brings his “daughter” along to dance - a technically accomplished solo from corps de ballet member Elena Tcherkashina, who is surely destined for promotion.

This was the third year this wonderful Siberian company have been the Regent. Judging by the cheers from last night's packed house, I hope that a visit in 2010 is a certainty.

James Hayward

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