The Australian Ballet’s Regional Tour company brings 19th century tale Coppélia to the Barossa Valley.
When she was artistic director of the Australian Ballet, Marilyn Jones had the brilliant idea of giving senior students at the Australian Ballet School (ABS) the experience of going on tour as the main company did. So the Dancers Company, now Regional Tour, was born, and the benefits are manifold. Every year the tours take the performers, most of whom will become members of the main company, into regional areas, alternating the route every second year. Nearing the end of its travels which began this year in Griffith, New South Wales, it brought an enchanting production of Coppélia to Tanunda’s 970-seat Brenton Langbein Theatre, which was filled to capacity. Its last stop is Mt Gambier, on August 24.
Created in 1870, the ballet tells the story of a toymaker, Dr Coppelius, whose major work is the doll Coppélia, the village girl Swanilda and her lover Franz, who tries to woo the lifelike doll. Swanilda and her friends break into Coppelius’s workshop, and Swanilda tricks the toymaker into thinking his doll comes alive. He is left disillusioned and despairing when he discovers he has been deceived. The lovers marry, amid much rejoicing.
Along with the students, some roles are taken by soloists from the main company, an astute strategy which allows for mentoring while on tour. Yuumi Yamada, a feisty Swanilda, studied at the ABS, joined the company in 2017 and was promoted to coryphée in 2018. Her Swanilda was full of animation and dramatic character, her technique clean and sharp, seen at its best in the Act II Scottish variation and her melodically lyrical wedding pas de deux. The role of Franz is notorious for allowing the dancer so little to do, but Edward Smith gave a good account of his one big solo. He has a big jump, secure turns and, though he could have brought more urgency to his pleading with Swanilda when she’s rejecting him, he was a careful and caring partner – particularly important in the wedding scene, with its caught fish dive finale.
In the Regional Tour the majority of the corps de ballet is made up of the graduating students, and they always bring an infectious enthusiasm to their performance. Here their enjoyment was immediately obvious in the Act I mazurka. At first the men were a little ragged, but they soon hit their stride and the ensembles which enliven the ballet throughout were all precise and highly enjoyable, particularly the women’s Dance of the Hours. And the Act III wedding celebrations were graced by a beautifully poised Dawn variation by Dana Stephenson and a delicate Prayer solo from Belle Urwin.
The late Kristian Fredrikson’s designs were a reminder of what a loss the company suffered when he died in 2005. Harmoniously developed in style and colour, his costumes add considerably to the ballet’s appeal, and his sets, particularly Coppelius’s workshop, with its dolls and dark shadows, had a mysterious, slightly sinister, air, contrasting with the brightly cheerful harvest scene of Act III.
The general confidence and professionalism of the production are a tribute to Andrew Murphy, ballet master since 2017, and especially Joanne Michel, who has been ballet mistress of the Regional Tour now for eight years.
The Australian Ballet Regional Tour performed Coppélia at Brenton Langbein Theatre on August 21, 2019