Breaking Boundaries with Scottish Ballet and Coppélia

Soloist Bruno Micchiardi as Dr Coppelius in world premiere of Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross
Soloist Bruno Micchiardi as Dr Coppelius in world premiere of Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross

Title:
Coppélia

Times:
touring Scotland until 8th October 2022

From: 14 Aug 2022

To: 16 Aug 2022

Venue:
Festival Theatre
13-29 Nicolson St
Edinburgh
Edinburgh & the Lothians
EH8 9FT

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Edinburgh International Festival hosts the world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s dynamic new production of the traditional 19th-century ballet Coppélia. Scottish Ballet has assembled one of its largest creative teams to produce a multi-layered tour de force in a hybrid form of music, dance, theatre and film. The company’s pioneering work with screen and digital technology throughout lockdown has inspired this bold approach to incorporate digital forms into live stage performances.

Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence in world premiere of Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.
Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence in world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.

The original 1870 ballet was then considered ultra-modern by introducing automata to ballet. It told the story of Coppélius, a dollmaker who creates a life-size dancing doll named ‘Coppélia’. A young engaged couple becomes embroiled in the evil plans of Coppélius when Franz falls in love with the doll thinking it’s real. His fiancée Swanhilda impersonates the doll to save Franz and their relationship.

Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Scottish Ballet dancers in world premiere of Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.
Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Scottish Ballet dancers in world premiere of Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.

This new adaptation introduces sophisticated technical elements to create an ultra-modern ballet for a contemporary audience. Choreographed and directed by the award-winning partnership of Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright (Tremble in 2019, The Secret Theatre in 2021) we explore the existential through dance. Our concerns about AI and computer intelligence parallel the 19th-century concerns that developing technologies are dehumanising.

L-R) Principals Constance Devernay-Laurence, Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Marge Hendrick, Artist Harvey Littlefield and Soloist Javier Andreu in Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.
(L-R) Principals Constance Devernay-Laurence, Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Marge Hendrick, Artist Harvey Littlefield and Soloist Javier Andreu in Scottish Ballet’s Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.

Yet, this is a theatre landscape where machines can dance in sensual human forms, where humans at a work party dance like machines. The boundaries between synthetic and authentic, human and machine, organic and manufactured seem not so clear anymore.

Bruno Micchiardi creates a charmingly confident Coppélius with delusions of grandeur. He’s the young, entrepreneurial owner of Nulife an AI company developing ‘Coppélia’ – a work in progress to replicate the perfect human. 

Soloist Bruno Micchiardi and Camera Operator Rimbaud Patron in world premiere of Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross
Soloist Bruno Micchiardi and Camera Operator Rimbaud Patron in world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross

Constance Devernay-Laurence shows great versatility in the central role as Swanhilda, a probing journalist sent to interview Coppélius at his vast laboratory. She brings along hapless fiancé Franz (Simon Schilgen). 

Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Artist Simon Schilgen in Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.
Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Artist Simon Schilgen in Scottish Ballet’s Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross.

The musical score is compelling, a new composition by Mikael Karlsson and Michael P Atkinson. There are consistent references to the original 1870 score by Léo Delibes. In each scene, a live accompaniment by the Scottish Ballet orchestra journeys into a mesmerising soundscape of synth layers and altered sounds. 

Rimbaud Patron (dancer/photographer) operates a Steadicam as part of the choreography, floating around the set with the stealth of a cat. The live filming adds yet another layer of sophistication to the storytelling whilst intercutting seamlessly with pre-recorded filming, projected images and live performance. The images cut between live-action footage and pre-recorded filming, pushing each scene beyond the limits of the stage.

Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Soloist Bruno Micchiardi in Scottish Ballet's Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross
Principal Constance Devernay-Laurence and Soloist Bruno Micchiardi in Scottish Ballet’s Coppelia. Credit Andy Ross

There are nods to non-human characters from science fiction film culture too. Fleeting visual references and movements remind us of Maria in Metropolis through to more recent ones such as Ava in Ex Machina.

In the words of Coppélius this is ‘a revelation of what it means to be human’. It’s a lot to pack into one hour and 20 minutes, making for a dynamic and powerful production that navigates from witty to sensual, charming to sinister – there’s never a dull moment and each moment is unmissable.

With grateful thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.

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