Lovely Coppélia returned to Northern Ballet School in David Needham's equally lovely production last December. It works because he understands the ballet's traditions and formalities in both mime, character and also in the allegory of the ballet's third act. Nothing is frippery and it offers the school's students the opportunity to dance in a classic production of a great ballet without there ever being a sense of it being lessened to cope with their present skills and talents. Coppélia is the perfect school ballet because its emotions are truly human and of peasant stock, and the school has produced some splendid performances of it in recent years.
I would venture that the performance I saw on December 7th is up there with some of the best. The corps was particularly good and it was impressive to see a properly danced Act I Mazurka, full of those lovely twitches of the head and wrists and great precision in the heeled footwork. A real joy.
Ryan Hamer and Airi Koike danced as Franz and Swanhilda, and they had a particularly good rapport in the Ear of Corn duet, Hamer especially clean and attentive. I was struck by his mime passages, which were clear and ardent, if a little forced- though it is a rare skill to see a dancer so young with such a gift in that area. I confess my taste for Swanhilda is more a girl of the street than Koike presented, but as the ballerina of Act III she scaled its grand heights and the Grand pas de deux was very fine indeed.
Reviewed by Mike Dixon, Dance Europe
Manchester City Ballet is the classical performance company of Northern Ballet School, and their annual pre-Christmas performance is an event one can anticipate with pleasure. Staged by David Needham and rehearsed by Patricia McDonald, these ballets feature the original choreography (Petipa and Cecchetti after Sant-Léon) with very few concessions to limitations of technique or stage experience. It is therefore greatly to the credit of Needham and the staff of Northern Ballet School that the performance levels are so high. The set for the first and last acts features a large number of village houses and a vista of snow-capped mountains, which creates a sense of infinite space on a relatively small stage. The corps de ballet are meticulously drilled and musically cohesive; they move as one, smile generously and address the audience with their eyes. This latter feature is, remarkably, true of every young performer on stage.
Airi Koike is a technically assured Swanhilda who dances with precision and clarity, displaying expressive arms and good footwork. Her torso lacks some articulation but she is otherwise strongly cast in this role. Her Franz is Ryan Hamer, who is stretched by some of the partnering, particularly by the many lifts in the final pas de deux, but he is full of cheeky charm and brings a healthy attack to some very difficult steps. In the Mazurka, with Chloe Warrier as the Lead Girl, he leads the company with spirit and élan; and the brisk friska brings out the innate discipline of the ensemble. Koike comes into her own in the second act, in Coppélius' workshop, where she reveals a gift for humour in her subtle comic timing and some skilful footwork in the Spanish and Scottish dances. Andrew Coleman is a very young man to be playing Coppélius, but apart from rushing some of his mime scenes he is very effective in the role and doesn't overplay his important moments. Clear, meaningful mime is a feature of all Needham's productions, but young performers always have a tendency to hurry their gestures, which sometimes negates the import of their message.
In the Village Square in Act III, during the ceremony of dedicating a new church bell, the Hours, Night Hours, Work and Betrothal sections are uniformly well danced by each group of performers, and Sahya Ohshima as Dawn and Honoka Nishimura as Prayer are charming and composed in their difficult variations. A delightfully logical feature, in addition to the new bell being presented by the duke, is the evidently broken bell in the scaffolding-clad campanile of the church. This is a nice touch. Airi Koike and Ryan Hamer essay the difficult choreography of their final duet with the professionalism and aplomb of seasoned artists, earning themselves a deserved ovation from an enthusiastic audience.
We also use Google Analytics to collect information about how our website is being accessed. You can toggle Google Analytics cookies on or off by clicking the button below.