Title: Coppélia, Covent Garden, London
Author: Clement Crisp
Date: July 25, 2010
Publisher: The Financial Times
The production of Coppélia which the Bolshoi Ballet showed us at the week’s end is a charmer (impossible, really, for it to be otherwise) and the happiest of rescues from ballet’s dusty vaults. Sergei Vikharev has consulted the priceless Sergeyev notations which recorded the Imperial Ballet stagings in Petersburg as the 20th century dawned, and understood them, and, in designs that are inspired by productions of that era, has brought to life this dear and glorious old ballet as it was produced in St Petersburg in 1894. What we see is, in many ways, the treasure that Ninette de Valois acquired for her infant Vic-Wells ballet in 1933 and which she revived at Covent Garden more than 50 years ago – and where it remains a jewel all too rarely seen.
This Vikharev version is understandably larger in scale, grander in means, than our native presentation – Coppélius’s workshop is positively baronial – but it offers many of the same dance patterns and danced felicities, and it is an unabashed delight.
Nowhere more so than in the central fact of Natalia Osipova as Swanilda, leading the performance on Thursday night. I reported with hosannas on her appearance when Coppélia was newly staged in Moscow last year. Now, as then, she is a marvel, and is worthily framed by the period felicities of the production. Her dancing inhabits the air, steps seemingly drawn high over the stage, and her integrity of means, the sweetness of her dramatic playing, even at her naughtiest with old Coppélius, illuminate this masterpiece. With no showing off, no double octaves, the role is danced with an enchanting yet unassuming bravura that lives and breathes in the music. Dance and interpretation have rarely seemed prettier, more bewitching.
The staging, done with an elegant verve by the Bolshoi’s artists – stylish boot dances, delicious classical ensembles – is a perfect frame for Swanilda’s poutings and her tricks with Gennady Yanin’s bemused Coppélius while yet keeping a beady eye on her dashing Franz (Ruslan Skvortsov, properly dashing in manner as in technique). The production smiles. The score, under Igor Dronov’s baton, smiles. We smile as we watch. A masterpiece smiles back. (And, as a note in passing, Le Corsaire, another fascinating Bolshoi restoration, is on view at the beginning of August.)