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Flash Review 3: More, More, More!
Australians Not Yet Hot Enough in "Coppelia"

By Simone Clifford
Copyright 2000 Simone Clifford

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Australian Ballet's "Coppelia," staged by Peggy Van Praagh and George Olgilvie after the 1870 Arthur Saint-Leon original as revised by Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti, is big in terms of set and costume design, music and length. Leo Delibes's music is extraordinary when one considers the period in which it was written. The theatrics and structure, then quite revolutionary, were to form the basis for the musical structure of our other much-loved ballet classics. The theatrics of the music are deliberate, decisive, and splashy. All this was present last night at the State Theatre of the Victorian Arts Centre -- and yet, as hot these dancers are, I found myself wanting more.

The audience always knows at which point they are expected to be quiet, to watch and follow the story; and when they are expected to make their presence felt and applaud the performers. The musical punctuations and structuring are important, as they provide the frame for the choreography to propel itself. But this somehow left me uneasy. Does the choreography allow the music too much latitude? I am uncertain and would need another viewing to consider the structure of this version. But there were times I found the choreography difficult, the dancers struggling to interpret musical timings in unison. Long strands of beautiful music were wasted by too much pantomime. As well, there were times when the choreography was technically very difficult and we saw the dancers hard-pushed to deliver their performance. But yet it LOOKED gorgeous -- everything we expected and hoped to see visually in a classic was presented to us flawlessly.

But what of the dance, the dancers? What happened last night, what did we see? I saw youthfulness. Why do I say this? I say this because the dancers performed the work admirably, with a joy in their expression, to be on the stage and to dance this work. The dancers in this company work so hard for the ideal, to be the ideal, and to be their ideal vision of the ideal. The overall impression is one of youth struggling with itself, wrestling to perform the ideal version of what performance in the balletic is, and in the meantime leaving us waiting and wishing for that total surrender to the ballet, to the art.

When I interviewed him recently, the AB's next artistic director, David McAllister, spoke about these very things. (See Flash Interview, 9-27: David McAllister in the House.) I am thirsty to witness the authority a dancer assumes on the stage once he or she totally surrenders to the art. These dancers are simply beautiful but why do they not trust themselves more? I could not sense their presence in the substantial ways that I had felt them in the trilogy program, the program before this one. (See Flash Review, 8-25: Pilgrimage in Search of a New Simplicity.) Aware that this is a very hard-working company, I'm sure the artistic leaps the dancers must make because of their far-reaching repertoire are a lot to ask. But still, I must ask: Why do they not embrace that magical blend of surrender and authority to their work? For we all so want them to unfold the journey on the stage and allow us to gaze with wonder at their beauty, their own point of view as artists. I want to watch them with wonder the way I do when looking up to the night sky, to see the dazzling array of twinkling stars that flirt with my imagination.

We know these dancers have earned their stripes, they've put in all the hard work, they've got it all together. They look good, the staging is good, the live orchestra sounds good. But... I want one of them to dare in new ways, and then to see others follow. For this company of dancers is hot but not hot enough in "Coppelia" -- yet! I think they could be soooooo hot in their portrayal, that they could burn us with their burning technique and talent together with a resolved approach towards themselves. I can't wait for the floodgates to open. We love everything about them, but we want more. Always more.

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