It is the so-called “Golden Week” in Japan, national holidays where people enjoy the fine weather and go out to travel or see entertainment. But sadly, due to Covid-19 and its variant virus cases increasing, all entertainment in Tokyo has been closed. The National Ballet of Japan’s performances of Coppélia were cancelled, but Artistic Director Miyako Yoshida made the bold decision to stream all four performances – with four different casts – for free.

Shunya Nakajima (Coppelius)
© Hidemi Seto

Roland Petit’s version of Coppélia entered the company’s repertoire in 2007 and this is the fourth time on the company's stage. Yoshida spoke at last year’s press conference how she was planning to invite Julio Bocca to coach these performances but, due to travel restrictions, this was not possible and the staging was done via Zoom by Luigi Bonino, Petit's longtime collaborator who has danced the role of Coppelius several times as a guest. 

Set in a French town square instead of a rural village in Galicia, the pale pink and grey costumes and refined stage design (designed by Ezio Frigerio) add a chic, sugary flavour, with toy-ish soldiers and girls with painted cheeks. Delibes' impressive score begins here with the nostalgic sound of a barrel organ, giving the stage a picture book atmosphere. 

Petit himself danced the role of the dollmaker Coppelius at the 1975 premiere, and his slightly dark, ironic version focuses on Coppelius as the centre of the plot. This Coppelius is no mad scientist, but an elegant and sophisticated gentleman, who loves Swanilda monomaniacally and creates a life-size doll that looks exactly like her. Shunya Nakajima, a young first artist, played this complicated role with much compassion, pathos and nuanced acting. The climax is a graceful pas de deux of Coppelius and the doll Coppélia, and Nakajima was skilled in waltzing with the doll with pure bliss and admiration. Coppelius meets a heartbreaking ending, where he is left alone and his beloved Coppélia breaks into pieces. Nakajima’s expression of grief, of losing his object of affection, alone on the empty stage, left a bitter feeling of loneliness and ageing, contrary to the happy young lovers. Although this was Nakajima’s first major role, his stage presence and expressive portrayal was a pleasant surprise.

Shunya Nakajima (Coppelius) and Yui Yonezawa (Swanilda)
© Hidemi Seto

The mischievous, jealous Swanilda was attractively played by Yui Yonezawa. Petit’s choreography, inspired by music hall dance, is not strictly classical but requires precise technique, with frequent off-balances, the use of shoulders and wiggling hips, and sixth position pas de bourrées. Yonezawa made every step and movement look so easy while adding much nuance and seductiveness. She especially shone in the Spanish and Scottish solos in Coppelius’ workshop, with crisp, fast footwork that destroyed his workplace. Her wedding solo was dazzling with perfection. And as this ballet requires a lot of acting, her enhanced facial expressions told us a lot about her ever-changing feelings, especially through close-ups on the screen.

Her lover Franz was danced by Shun Izawa, a princely danseur with bravura technique. Franz is a flirt, cheating on Swanilda and having a crush on Coppélia, although the doll looks exactly like his girlfriend. Franz in this version is no more enhanced a role than Coppelius, other than showing his virtuosity in his variations, but Izawa did a fine job with impressive leaps and clean landings, whilst being mischievous. He also proved himself as an excellent partner, tossing Swanilda in the air multiple times and catching her with ease in the wedding pas de deux, and their comical conversation in the first act, as well as the reactions with Coppelius, were well acted.

Yui Yonezawa (Swanilda) and Shun Izawa (Franz)
© Hidemi Seto

Unlike the usual Coppélia, where there are wedding divertissements in the last act, there are no other soloists in this ballet. Swanilda’s six girlfriends were all charming and mastered the Petit vocabulary of shaking their hips and shoulders with allure, but the experienced second cast ballerinas who danced the later performances were even more skilled in their character portrayal and individuality. 

One could understand the difficulty of passing on the choreographer’s intentions with online coaching, as some of the details appeared to be lost. Nevertheless, this was a delightful performance, with the magnificent acting and dancing by the three leads allowing the audience, staying at home for the holidays, to have a good time. This stream notched up more than 30,000 views, which is a very impressive number given that there were three further streams to follow. It seems many people new to ballet were attracted to this holiday treat, and will hopefully come to the theatre once the situation permits. 

This performance was reviewed from the New National Theatre, Tokyo live video stream