MORE fans will associate Vienna Festival Ballet with performing at Worthing‘s Pavilion Theatre the three Tchaikovsky masterpiece ballets than any other ballets. But to me the essence of VFB’s individuality and accomplishment is encapsulated in their Coppélia.
Ballet’s fun masterpiece tale of young romance, young people, mechanical dolls and a dreamy, dotty, eccentric old craftsman good humouredly tricked, always illuminates Peter and Gill Mallek’s 32-year-old touring company as though turning a mirror on itself. Coppélia and VFB are both about capturing we humans in the spring of life.
The VFB is a vehicle for young international dancers to discover their artistry and star potential through their own vitality, energy and intelligence. And Emily Hufton, a new internal appointment, still on stage with VFB having arrived on the heels of dancing at Sadler’s Wells, performing with English National Ballet and touring with Birmingham Royal Ballet, is already proving the kind of ballet mistress who can engender confidence and initiate exploration.
Her ideas on humour and her additions to Christopher Lee Wright’s choreography are young touches, as opposed to august and seasoned ones, and that imparts a modern flavour to Coppélia’s trademark – the fun.
This is the most consistent of those medium-band companies touring the British provinces. Their ensemble work almost always outscores the rest and the high quality of their costumes stretches across the whole cast and not just a few lucky key roles.
Swanilda’s Friends in their set of composer Delibes’ variations, immediately took Act 1 to a climax of joy and warmth after the excellence of the opening Valse and early Mazurka that set height of the VFP bar. In countryside colours of white, yellow, green and pale brown and orange, Act 1 then began to spotlight the personalities in the company.
And while Olga Petiteau (Swanilda) and Miguel Piquer (Franz) took the ultimate plaudits for the right technical (great fouettés, Olga; stunning spins, Miguel) and artistic reasons, the breadth of VFB talent is once again extending beyond its principals.
Swanilda’s Friends, Emily-Joy Smith, Melania Gamarro, Jodie McKnight and Tamara Ledermann, took centre stage with Petiteau in an Act 2 lit higher to project their mischief-making in the dolls workshop. A low-lit Act 2 heightens fear and mystery but to veil the interaction of the exploring girls, when done as well as this, would be criminal.
Lederman has a magnetic gift for comedy and drama, and an expressive face with a smile that nearly stole the entire ballet from Swanilda. We will watch for her development.
VFP launched Act 3 on another super ensemble, the silvery Morning Hours dance. The charming Dawn followed, by Gamarro, and then the Prayer, in which Ledermann was forced into this ungainly solo set-piece about which there is surely a strong argument for a complete choreographic re-think on it.
There’s no doubting the appropriateness for the plot in this devotional section on the special Day of Matching the town’s betrothed couples. But its stiff language is anomalous, awkward and repressive in a ballet flowing with fizz and energy.
In naming Coppélia as the quintessential Vienna Festival Ballet show, decisive to success is the quality of their portrayals of Dr Coppélius, the doll inventor. On Friday, we found an exceptional soloist in Ricardo Pereira plunged into this character role to cover for the injured Fraser Gaterell. It’s a hazard of touring life and can be the making of an individual, revealing suddenly not only versatility but innate human observational insight.
“He got more laughs than I get,” was Gaterell’s tribute afterwards. Without belittling Gaterell’s Dr Coppelius, and having not even seen it, I can say that in Pereira’s, I’ve not seen a more comical or touching performance by a young man in this old-man role. I can imagine him doing not one but several roles in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations of Elgar’s ‘Friends Pictured Within’.
Will he be cast as VFB’s next Drosselmeyer, or Swan Lake Jester? Or be returned to soloist, maybe Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty? As they say in sport, he now poses a selection problem.
Vienna Festival Ballet are on an extensive British tour, including Coppélia at Horsham Capitol on March 12 and again at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, on March 19, where they will be with Sleeping Beauty on March 20.
They are back in Worthing on May 16 with Sleeping Beauty.