Coppélia, one of the bounciest of 19th-century ballet classics, is a good vehicle for emerging ballerinas. In Birmingham Royal Ballet’s revival, 23-year-old soloist Maureya Lebowitz made a delightful heroine, with strong technique and lively presence. Around her, the company responded with a vivid performance, making this a very cheerful matinée.
Created in 1870 in Paris, revised by Marius Petipa in St Petersburg, Coppélia draws on an ETA Hoffmann story, sweetened with quarrelling lovers and lots of dancing. The eccentric Dr Coppélius has made a doll so lifelike that people mistake it for a human girl. The heroine Swanilda is fascinated by her glimpse of Coppélia; so is her boyfriend Franz, who has a roving eye. When they separately sneak into Coppélius’ workshop, they find he has creepy plans to bring his doll to life.
The role of Swanilda has plenty of variety, from romantic comedy to doll dances (when Swanilda disguises herself as Coppélia) and on to a grand classical pas de deux in the last act. Dancing her first full-length lead role, Lebowitz shines in all three.
Born in California and trained in in Canada, she has dark hair and poised stage presence. This was her second performance: she made an unscheduled early debut, stepping in for an injured Elisha Willis. She’s spontaneous and bright as the stroppy village girl, turning to the audience in indignation over Franz’s shortcomings.
Lebowitz shows a nice sense of mischief in Coppélius’ workshop. The doll dances are crisply performed, switching from automaton to living woman. Her Swanilda is naughty but soft-hearted: she shows unusual sympathy for Coppélius when she admits her trick on him.
The dancing is clean and sure throughout. Lebowitz knows how to shape a classical variation, giving the steps colour and warmth so that they become flowing phrases rather than technical hurdles. She’s absolutely steady in the tricky penchée arabesque holding a mirror, and grows to new authority for the final pas de deux.
As Franz, Joseph Caley dances with cheerful swagger. Now a principal dancer, he’s become a much stronger partner. He has a bold jump, and gives his solos a nice Hungarian flourish. Valentin Olovyannikov is a witty Coppélius, obstinate in his eccentricity.
Making his own debut, conductor James Ham led a nicely paced performance, giving the mime scenes room to breathe. In the last act celebrations, Céline Gittens, another ballerina rising through the Birmingham ranks, shows lucid phrasing and authority in the Dawn solo. Mathias Dingman spins triumphantly in the Call to Arms dance. Birmingham Royal Ballet are in fine form, with plenty of hopes for the future.
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