With its Storytime Ballet series the Australian Ballet has devised the perfect introduction for young children to the art of classical ballet. The series reduces famous ballets to a digestible 55 minutes, without interval, and presents them with a cast of young dancers fresh from the Australian Ballet School who dance the original choreography adapted to suit the format.
The costumes are usually from the original mainstage productions, as is the case for this year’s presentation of Coppelia which uses the much admired Kristian Fredrikson costumes, of which some of the 1978 originals are on display in the foyer. A charming setting by Hugh Colman which, with the addition of Jon Buswell’s imaginative lighting, cleverly encompasses both the outside and inside of Dr. Coppelius’ toy shop.
This version avoids the darker aspects of the ballet with Dr. Coppelius portrayed by Sean McGrath as a genial panto-host who explains the gist of the story, and encourages the young audience to use their magic wands (purchased in the foyer beforehand) or simply wave their fingers, (if grandma says no to the wands), to assist with the magic at various points in the story.
The twelve young dancers who make up the cast swap characters at the various performances. At this particular performance Jasmin Forner was a delightfully animated Swanilda, who had her young audience fascinated when she switched costumes to trick Dr. Coppelius into believing that she was his prized doll, Coppelia.
Handsome Benjamin Obst danced stylishly as her boyfriend Franz, while the rest of the cast, Dayna Booth, Cieren Edinger, Lewis Formby, Billy Laherty, Alexander Mitchell, Eliza O’Keefe, Yvette Sauvage, Estelle Thomson and Chantelle van der Hoek, shone as Swanilda and Franz’s friends, and particularly in feature solos as Coppelia, Dawn and Dr. Coppelius’ magical dolls.
Ballet Mistress for this tour is former principal dancer Madeleine Eastoe and the Ballet Master is former Canberran, Paul Knobloch. Their influence is notable in the careful attention to the detail of the choreography which is based on the original by Saint-Leon, Petipa, Cecchetti and David McAllister.
While this may be of little interest to the young audience entranced by the pretty costumes and fun storyline, it is indicative of the importance placed by the Australian Ballet in ensuring that their target audience receives an authentic ballet experience. This production delivers that in spades.
Storytime Ballet: Coppelia
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Season: 17 – 19 January 2019
Image: Artists of The Australian Ballet – photo by Jeff Busby
Review: Bill Stephens OAM