Fun evening with a doll

REVIEW / DANCE

COPPELIA

Singapore Dance Theatre

Esplanade Theatre/Last Saturday

Coppelia is a fluffy confection of a ballet, a light-hearted piece that combines comedy and pantomime with classical dance.

It tells the story of two young lovers, Swanilda and Franz. Their road to the altar is threatened by Franz's affection for a mysterious girl in the balcony - Coppelia - who turns out to be a doll. Hijinks and mayhem ensue.

Never mind that Franz might be faithless or one of the least intelligent people ever (or needs to get his eyesight checked, at least) - it is all in good fun and everyone gets a happy ending.

Coppelia is a piece well-suited for the Singapore Dance Theatre - not particularly demanding in terms of gravitas or grandeur, and the dancers have fun hamming it up on stage.

Chihiro Uchida as Swanilda leads a pack of village girls to discover Coppelia's true identity, giggling and scheming and solemnly swearing they are up to no good the whole way through, enchanting the audience in the process.

Uchida's Swanilda is sweet and mischievous, but never churlish, with a smile like a sunbeam one moment and a girlish sulk of frustration the next. But who can blame her when her boyfriend was considering two-timing her with an inanimate object.

While Swanilda may be the more ingenious of the pair, between them, they have as much depth of character as a children's wading pool.

Kenya Nakamura, Uchida's real- life fiance, makes a decent effort at channelling the playful, callow Franz, but seems too much of a solemn fellow to embrace the slapstick nature of the piece.

Nonetheless, he is a solid partner for Uchida and a reliable technician. After finishing a pas de deux in the third act that was a bit hard-going for them towards the end, Nakamura and Uchida charmingly exchanged smiles of relief - as if to say, "We got through that". It is a reminder of just how much work it takes to make a ballet look beautiful.

Artistic director Janek Schergen (performing under the pseudonym Yann Ek), who cast himself as doll-maker Dr Coppelius, is the weak link in the ballet.

Here, the character is neither wretched enough to be villainous, funny enough to be endearing nor pitiful enough for the audience to be sympathetic.

He is just an old man with a questionable fetish for life-size dolls - Coppelia, in particular. It makes the famous Act II pas de deux between himself and Swanilda (masquerading as Coppelia) more than a little uncomfortable. Happily, Dr Coppelius is placated with money in the third act and disappears so that more dancing can ensue.

There are moments of virtuosity in Coppelia - the requisite bravura dance passages and demanding codas designed to thrill audiences - but it is not a ballet of pyrotechnics. It is a sweet, silly evening of classical dance that will put a smile on your face. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Fun evening with a doll'. Print Edition | Subscribe