SHE looks born to the role. Katrina Meske gave one of the most engaging performances of Swanhilda I have seen on a Worthing stage and it was only the third time in her career the Latvian had done all three acts of Coppélia in the part.
Taught, she told me, by the same teacher as her compatriot Mikail Baryznikov, her mother was a folk dancer, and Meske has acting skills and comedy flair of an evident level evident not often seen in a classical dancer so young. One of many facial expressions during the evening was particularly priceless – when she saw her betrothed Franz hopelessly drunk at the hands of the wily Dr Coppélius in the dollmaker’s workshop.
She declared that had she been able to sing, she’d have been on the musical stage and probably in opera. Lucky us — to have a dancer so well-equipped to amuse, entertain and transfix.
There was characterisation excelling beyond his years, too, in Sergey Lvov’s Doctor.
European Ballet seem to have had an all-change of dancers that promises much for the imminent seasons. Meske appears the sole survivor of the previous principals or soloists.
The quality of movement is high, with much fleetness of foot among the girls as well as the boys, and the males gave a spectacle of leaps and turns in the cracklingly exciting first act, where all provided the explosive energy for the set pieces and not only the showpiece Czardas and Mazurka.
Coppélia is a comedy, and a triumphant combination of classical ballet with national folk dances crowned by one of the great ballet musical scores. Léo Délibes was composing his first full ballet and it still thrills, beguiles and exhilarates all these years since its 1870 debut – soon after which its music inspired Tchaikovsky.
Act 1 never fails to lift the viewer, visibly and audibly, and the audience were involved and giving back to the performers from Swanhilda’s first solo onwards. The choreography of European Ballet’s ex-Bolshoi company founder Stanislav Tchassov’s, taking up from Petipa’s reconstruction of Saint-Leon’s original work, was both a delight and an electrical stimulus.
The Workshop middle act contained an extra energetic Chinese Doll’s dance from Alessandro Torrielli as well as a host of amusing comedic ideas around Dr Coppélius’ scheming — with Swanhilda a willing accomplice —to frame Franz into contrition for ludicrously having become smitten with the doll Coppélia.
As Swanhilda’s chosen one Franz, Alessandro Giovine led the European Ballet boys from the front, and excelled in his Act 2 humiliation. But as his stamina was put to the test near the end of the Wedding Celebrations finale, Meske came through with flying colours with the string of fouettes in her pas de deux variation.
The grand divertissement of dances in Act 3 included the charming children’s ring dance by four boys and four girls from Worthing school, Glendale Theatre Arts.
Costume-wise, nothing seemed remarkable, but the girls in red and later light green, the boys in sultry nut brown velvet doublets against off-white or cream, were vibrant and lyrical enough. But Swanhilda in Coppélia’s long blond, curly wig, with her pink be-ribboned blue tutu, created a girly look in Act 2 that no Franz (sloshed or otherwise) could have resisted.
European Ballet claim to have no government funding or sponsorship. That makes their current survival, let alone with such quality of artistes as these, a small miracle. Witness them as soon as you can. Their winter tour now switches to The Nutcracker for the onset of the Christmas season.