COPPELIA – Ballet de Bordeaux – Summer 2013



After Paris, Bordeaux is France’s grandest city, graced with impressive monuments, gardens, fountains and avenues lined with elegant, highly decorated buildings, once belonging to the wealthy merchants of the city. ‘Le Grand Théatre’ dominating the city centre is enormous and indeed, very grand. Built in 1780, the theatre has always housed a ballet company, and one which became famous with the creation of Dauberval’s La Fille Mal Gardée in 1789. More recently the company has been led by a number of internationally recognised directors; the British Alan Carter, French-born Vladimir Skouratoff, the Italian Paolo Bortoluzzi, and former danseur étoile from the Paris Opéra Ballet, Eric Vu An. The present director, Charles Jude, also étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet took over in 1996. Charles Jude had a long and highly successful career as a dancer, much of it under the direction of Rudolf Nureyev, and was partner to many of the leading ballerinas of the day. In Bordeaux he mounts his own versions of the 19th century classics, while adding works by Fokine, Balanchine, Tudor, Lifar as well as contemporary international choreographers to the repertoire.

Jude first mounted Coppelia in 1999 and has revised it for the 2012-2013 season. As with most opera house-based companies in France, the company gives only about eight performances of each of their four programmes mounted each season in Bordeaux. Just thirty odd performances a year are obviously not sufficient for any dance company, especially when the leading roles must be shared between three different casts. However, the company is fortunate in obtaining a number of overseas engagements, as far afield as Japan, Moscow, the USA, and they visited the Edinburgh Festival in 2003.  Jude’s version of Coppelia takes place in the United States of the 1950’s and Swanilda becomes ‘Swanie’ and Franz ‘Fonzy’.The ballet keeps close to the original scenario but in the first act the male dancers appear as sailors, Fancy Free style, and both the Mazurka and the Czardas become Barn Dances. This almost works thanks to some strong dancing and the energy and good humour the company put into it. However, rewriting the choreography for Swanilda’s first entrance into a bland classical variation, played out to the audience, and ignoring the doll in her usual window setting was a disappointment. Curious mistakes, as when Dr. Coppelius (who has kept his name) appeared to throw away the key to his house (a magical kind of remote control) rather than losing it, seemed careless.

 The second act opens with Swanilda’s usual entrance, accompanied by her friends, but keeping the traditional mime sequences (“she over there- her heart does not beat- she over there is a doll” language) hardly makes sense in 1950’s America. These discrepancies continued all through the act, which became more and more muddled. Charles Jude as Dr Coppelius seemed restrained by the size of the very elaborate second-act set and the climax of this act, when he is actually killed by the mechanical dolls coming to life, was not clear enough. The final act then slipped into pure musical comedy routines interspersed with very classical pas de deux and variations, reminiscent of Nureyev’s ‘busy’ choreography, and rather tentatively danced. One must salute Jude’s ability to retain a classically based company in France today, where this has become almost unfashionable, and also the attractive company, led in this performance by the Ukrainian Oksana Kucheruk as Swanie and the Spanish Igor Yebra as Fonzy.          

 July 2013