Ed’s Note: Bethan has been attending free weekly ballet lessons at Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) as part of their Dance Track programme, after being selected when a team from BRB came to her school.
BRB has an ongoing agenda (with Dance Track and beyond) to reach children ‘who often wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to participate in dance’ and to ‘introduce the young participants and their families to ballet and to incite an interest in the art form’.
Having previously covered BRB’s production of Cinderella for us in February this year, I wanted to see what Bethan and her mum, Jenny, would make of Coppélia – a ‘comic ballet’ who’s folklore story line is often cited as a classic that’s accessible for a younger audience.
Birmingham Review, Bethan and Jenny would like to thank everyone at Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Hippodrome for their support with our coverage.
Words by Bethan & Jenny / Production pics by Andrew Ross
Topics for conversation on the way home from school usually include trying to extract what my seven year old daughter, Bethan, has spent the day doing. Usually “nothing”… but today she was abuzz with excitement telling me how she had been talking to her teachers about her impending visit to the ballet. “Mum, I have got to keep a tally chart of all the ballet moves I know when we see Coppélia tonight.”
As an attendee of the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Dance Track programme, Bethan was looking forward to being able to identify any of the moves she has learned, as she did when we saw their performance of Cinderella in February. “I think it will help me a lot with my ballet”.
Upon arrival, we were ushered downstairs to the Qdos Lounge to collect our tickets. We found an apple juice and some chocolate buttons at the bar (and a glass of wine for Mum) and took our seats in the stalls. Bethan needed a booster seat to be able to see the stage properly, and, although there weren’t many children in the audience for this performance – which was quite understandable given that it was a school night – there was a stack of boosters at the door. The staff were helpful, asking if I needed more than one and if I would like help taking it to my seat.
As we were waiting for the performance to begin, Bethan noticed that she could hear the Orchestra warming up. She went for a look by herself, and came back to me with very flushed cheeks – someone playing “a ginormous harp!” had smiled and waved at her. She also reported that she had seen “three or four violas, two double bass and lots of drums… It’s amazing how they can all play them together!” Not knowing a viola from my elbow, I took her word for it.
Unlike Cinderella the story of Coppélia has not been a firm favourite in our house, so neither Bethan nor myself knew the plot. We’d read the Birmingham Preview for Coppélia before getting to the Hippodrome and had a quick look on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Facebook page and website while we were waiting for the rest of the audience to take their seats, to remind ourselves of the basics of the story line.
We watched a short video and read a brief summary of the plot, both of which helped to give us a condensed understanding of the production we were about to see – this was so helpful because as soon as the key characters came on the stage Bethan knew their names and their roles. Without this she may have been a little bit lost (although she would still have certainly enjoyed the dancing).
Acts I & II tell the story of Doctor Coppélius trying to bring his beautiful doll to life, of Franz’s infatuation with her and of his jealous lover Swanhilda. This story was delivered with a clever combination of dance, props, mime and lighting to make the character’s thoughts, feelings and intentions clear.
I checked in with Bethan regularly to ensure that she understood the story, and with some guidance she could explain it clearly to me. She loved the comedy that the dancers brought to their roles, laughing out loud on more than one occasion (and drawing turned heads from other ballet-goers to share her enjoyment).
During both intervals we were looked after very well by the staff at the Hippodrome. One of the ladies serving drinks in the Qdos Lounge was keen to talk to Bethan about her experience of the ballet, and she was more than happy to oblige. They spent quite some time discussing the Dance Track programme, Bethan’s future career hopes (perhaps a ballerina, but maybe an astronaut or an RSPCA inspector) and her take on Coppélia. Bethan was brought apple juice and biscuits, and I enjoyed a coffee while she chatted.
Back in our seats for Act III, Bethan was busy updating her tally chart before the curtain lifted. She was pleased that she has spotted 10 pliés, 5 spring points, some fifth position jumps and too many pirouettes to count. Although she eventually gave up on the tally chart as this was where the dancers really came in to their own; the story of Coppélia had been delivered and now we were on to the more serious stuff.
The portrayals of the seasons were beautiful – the costumes made it clear that this is what the dances were about, particularly Winter (the main dancer, who received a standing ovation from several of the audience for his tremendous performance). The only part we couldn’t quite fathom was the appearance of a bearded gentleman in a white cloak throughout these dances. Bethan said he looked as though he was from Harry Potter, and I must say I agreed with her.
On the way home, I asked a sleepy little girl if she had enjoyed herself. Bethan said that it had been “magical” and that she had loved it all – she couldn’t choose a favourite part. She fell asleep in the car, and struggled to wake up the next morning, but went skipping in to school clutching her program so that she could tell her teachers all about her special night out and another wonderful performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Coppélia – Birmingham Royal Ballet 2017
Birmingham Royal Ballet brings its production of Coppélia to the Birmingham Hippodrome from 13th to 17th June. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.
For more on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Coppélia, visit www.brb.org.uk/whats-on/event/coppélia
For more from Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.brb.org.uk
For more on BRB’s Dance Track programme, visit www.brb.org.uk/up-close/dance-education/dance-track
For more from Birmingham Hippodrome, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com