Storytime Ballet: Australian Ballet brings Coppelia to life for kids

Storytime Ballet: Coppélia. The Australian Ballet. Original choreography: Arthur St-Leon with additional choreography by David McAllister. Music: Leo Delibes. Design: Hugh Colman (set), Kristian Fredrikson (costumes), Jon Buswell (lighting). The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until January 19.

A scene from The Australian Ballet's <i>Storytime Ballet: Coppélia</i>.  Photo: Jeff Busby

A scene from The Australian Ballet's Storytime Ballet: Coppélia.  Photo: Jeff Busby

Coppélia is the third production in the popular Storytime Ballet series produced for young people by the Australian Ballet. It follows productions of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

Of the three, Coppélia, with its blend of humour, magic and joyous activity, perhaps lends itself best to being rethought as an experience for the young. Its story is simple and it contains some fascinating characters. Apart from the main couple, Swanilda and Franz, who eventually resolve their problems and get married, there is the eccentric Dr Coppélius, a toymaker who dabbles in his own brand of magic and, of course, Coppélia, the life-sized doll Dr Coppélius has created and hopes to bring to life.

Dr Coppelius can be a formidable character but, in this production, anything alarming about him is reduced by the fact that he takes on the role of narrator. Onstage narration has become a feature of the Australian Ballet’s storytime ballets and it is beautifully done on this occasion by Sean McGrath, whose acting and strong, clear voice were commented on by my young companions.

Sean McGrath as Doctor Coppelius in The Australian Ballet's <i>Storytime Ballet: Coppelia</i> Photo: Jeff Busby

Sean McGrath as Doctor Coppelius in The Australian Ballet's Storytime Ballet: Coppelia Photo: Jeff Busby

As far as the dancing goes, as after all it is still a ballet we are watching, the small company of just 12 artists (largely of graduates of the Australian Ballet School) does an excellent job. In particular, Benjamin Obst as Franz and Jasmin Forner as Swanilda showed outstanding technical abilities and my companions, both dance students, were impressed. Readers of The Canberra Times’ arts pages may remember a story about Forner published last year, which told of her recovery in Canberra Hospital from serious injuries sustained in a car accident. Watching her dance as she now does make her recovery and return to ballet seem quite miraculous.

The full-length Coppélia is a three-act ballet with changes of set for each act. Designer Hugh Colman skilfully designed a single set for the storytime production, which with just a few moveable facades, and some fine lighting by Jon Buswell, could easily transform itself from village square to Dr Coppelius’ workshop and back to the square within the 50 minutes of this production, which had no interval at all.

The Canberra Theatre Centre’s Playhouse is a perfect venue for these storytime productions. It has a delightful intimacy that encourages participation from the very young, who made the most of the opportunity to assist Dr Coppelius with his magic, some using magic wands, others their magic fingers. For those young people who are slightly older, it was the strength of the dancing that attracted them.