The first thing that strikes you about Coppélia is the look and feel of designer Sieb Posthuma's cartoonlike scene. Coppelia is bright, happy and colourful. This is an exemplary, successful modern day update of a classical ballet with a character of its own, a convincing world where comic strip meets dance. It suits the lightness of the story and the actors in it. In this onslaught of pink and yellow (Coppelia herself), the costumes are suitably outrageous (François-Noël Cherpin/Posthuma) and the hairdo's well over the top. A flamboyant Daniel Montero Real looks like a peroxided John Travolta who found a socket.

Igone de Jongh (Swanhilde) and Daniel Camargo (Franz) © Marc Haegeman
Igone de Jongh (Swanhilde) and Daniel Camargo (Franz)
© Marc Haegeman

The story is updated. Swanhilde - in love with Franz - finds him falling for the spell of Dr. Coppelius, his blond doll bombshell Coppelia and his evil minion salesgirls, who run a plastic surgery clinic. If an evil manga-inspired airline existed, these would be their pink dominatrix stewardesses: at one moment aggressively marketing their wares invading the scene and the other lifelessly draped across their desks. Swanhilde and her friends break into the clinic, free a captured Franz, expose Dr. Coppelius' evil doings and save the day. (A great Dutch National Ballet online animation explaining the story is available on Youtube for the young ones, just like the company did recently with another classic, Bayadère. They are a lot better than the Dr. Coppelian-style evil Barbie versions of Swan Lake and Nutcracker brought to you by Mattel...).

Igone de Jongh's Swanhilde ”Zwaantje” is strong, playful and beautiful. Her third act tiptoeing high on the notes of the Ballet orchestra captured the audience in a special moment. All her solos are energetic and her enjoyment contagious. “Franz/Frans” (Daniel Camargo) opens with strong jumps, plays the clueless boyfriend well and his end solo had a great surprise: a risky diagonal jump that could go so wrong, that went so right.

Vito Mazzeo as Dr. Coppelius is convincing – lending an Italian confused irritation to the role when his inventions backfire – and he storms the stage with some great jumps at the start. Vera Tsyganova is very solid and exact and unfortunately only has a small, but great role as his assistant Anna Marx. Coppelia herself, Erica Horwood fits the role of the stoic robotic malleable doll.

A Christmas Ballet show is usually 'for all the family' which is christmas speak for 'first and foremost for the kids'. But ballet lovers fear not! These corps dancers are of such high quality that we get treated to dashes of virtuosity throughout. Instead of going from one perfunctory scene to another, awaiting the first soloists, director & choreographer Ted Brandsen allows the other dancers to show off in small roles of speed and risk.

Points in case are Roman Artyushkin as a comically fast and furious risktaking James Bond, the daring jumps of Sasha Mukhamedov (Carmencita) and the playful and strong aerial presence of Edo Wijnen, Martin Ten Kortenaar and Jared Wright Franz's friends. More of the risky stuff and longer solos for these folks please.

Igone de Jongh, Daniel Camargo and the ensemble © Marc Haegeman
Igone de Jongh, Daniel Camargo and the ensemble
© Marc Haegeman

Coppelia is not exactly that classic love drama where you will need your handkerchief to dabb away that insurpressable tear, confronted by melancholy or the inexplicable mysteries of love and the (after) life. It hangs on the success of its humour. Franz, Swanhilde & her friends' antics are effectively mimed and crowdpleasingly funny. I feel that the kids in the first act and the dogs deserve a special comedic shout/woof-out for their successful part. De Jongh and Camargo's love spats get great laughs, but one dancer deserves special mention for nailing the role of Swanhilde's friend Emma, Nadia Yanowsky. Dancers with this level of comic timing are a rare bread. Charismatically expressed by her whole body and face, her emotions are instantly visible from any distance. Whether it is small gestures like lifted feet when she acts a petulant child wanting to run away from a dare (a break-in at the plastic surgery clinic), her clumsy tender interaction with her boyfriend or when Brandsen has her clearly dance deliciously and consistently out of step with the other dancers. She dances it all with brilliant ease and gets the biggest laughs. Yanowsky's comic dancing is genius.

Coppelia is a spectacle for kids with some great dancing for the adults, especially in the third act when De Jongh and Camargo shine best as dancers solo and together. It isa great bet for Christmas... but to be avoided by all who fear pink!