Coppelia, Royal Opera House, London

In loving memory
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The Independent Culture

Commeration is all the rage right now, and nowhere more so than in the Royal Ballet. The whole past season has been devoted to Anthony Dowell's career, and in addition the company has memorialised the deaths of its longest-serving dancer, Leslie Edwards, and its founder, Dame Ninette de Valois. Happily, one of her own best-loved productions, Coppelia had already been restored to the repertoire after a long absence, and this now returns for short summer season.

De Valois herself, a dancer of great brilliance according to contemporary accounts, was the company's own first cast for the leading role way back in 1933, and when she made the present version in 1954 she had not only much experience of the work but the benefit of the company rich in strong young dancers.

It was not her style to go adding a lot of new dances, but rather to polish the traditional ones and present them in a rewarding context. So we have expanded treatments of the folk numbers, bold acting to bring out the characters, and flatteringly pretty designs by Osbert Lancaster (who was much more than just a versatile and widely knowledgeable cartoonist). The character who benefited most was the flirtatious but fundamentally good-natured hero Franz, and Johan Kobborg, who played that role to start the present run, is a dancer who would have warmed de Valois' heart: lively, bubbling with masculine charm, and the focus of attention whenever he is on stage. He has hardly any dancing to do until almost the end, but when his two solo entries finally arrive he really lets rip.

Jaimie Tapper was a replacement as the heroine, Swanilda, because of an injury to Sarah Wildor, so we must be grateful for her brisk manner and cheerful smile, and make allowances if her solos looked somewhat light weight. Alastair Marriott makes Doctor Coppelius a decidedly eccentric but mostly endearing old buffer. He seems to be improvising the balance between comedy and pathos, but his instinct is not leading him astray.

I guess that he and everyone else could benefit from coaching by someone who really knows the ballet from dancing in it; at present there are plenty of things that need putting right, not least the ensembles of act one. The mazurka needs a much more gutsy attack and less bother with tricksy steps, while the dances for Swanilda's friends could do with a lighter smoothness.

Delibes' score could do with a more delicate approach than Jacques Lacombe directed, but it's always a pleasure to hear.

Next performances Tuesday, 2.30 and 7.30pm (020-7304 4000). A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

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