Coppelia 2017 (Acts II and III) – Singapore Dance Theatre

Out of the woods and into the frying pan!

Updating previous post with music.

The music is quite awesome – just YouTube Coppelia 1990 Australian Ballet. So lush, between Acts. And then 40:18 is where the action of Act 2 starts.

 

coppelia 2017 cast

Boy, is this room creepy and fun. Here’s SDT’s 2017 Coppelia trailer (using 2013 footage) so that you can get the idea. Look at that gigantic smiling moon.

(This still you see shows Chihiro as Swanilda, Jason Carter as Harlequin with the mandolin, and Mr Janek Schergen as Doctor Coppelius)

Left to right: We have Justin Zee as the musician on the left. Behind him sits Sun Hong Lei (for Chihiro’s shows, where she is not Prayer) / Leane Lim as Scottish with a sash draped across her. Then Beatrice Castenada as Spanish with a long black lace mantilla and a brilliant jewel-red tutu, and a black lace fan in her lap. Timothy Ng is now the Harlequin, which is one of the most fun and scariest dolls ever, Shan Del Vecchio is the Astronomer in the hat similar to that of Mickey in Disney’s Fantasia, and a long dark gown stitched over with stars. And oh, one of my favourite gloriously creepy dolls – the Siamese twins, seated on a set of what looks like steps. Purple and gold, knees bent outwards, eyes shut. It was only in this performance that I realized that they are dressed in traditional (?) Siamese costumes because they are Siamese twins. =_= They were my favourites in the 2013 performance. Such fabulous costumes. You can see them dance at 0:18 to 0:25 of the performance above. With a spoiler, of course.

The girls enter, to really interesting music. It’s sort of evocative of them creeping about like mice, and of the tension (the unsettling shivery violin trill) — and it’s in a major key, but with the occasional twist (chromatic scale?) that makes you feel like you’re in another world. The scared friend (Kwok Min Yi) needs to be pulled in, and she bumps into the rest in a hurry, which scares them silly. She hides her face in her hands and doesn’t dare to look. The quick-tempered friend (Chua Bi Ru) happily bumbles along and walks backwards into the Musician (Justin Zee), who promptly comes to life and starts kicking his legs out and turning. This scares them terribly.

But when he sits back down (with a little doll-like back-and-forth motion), they realise he’s a doll. I thought that they tested all the dolls at this point in time, but I’m not sure there’s enough music or patience for that. You know, the Australian Ballet 1990 dolls are way creepier. Their Act 2 set and dolls are so elaborate. Kinda fun, but eeks.

What we do know is that the girls feel braver now, and they check out the dolls.

I think they do set off the dolls. The Scottish doll gets up and does constant coupe-de-pied en pointe with alternating feet: lifting one foot to cross it behind her ankle, then repeating with the other foot, while swaying from side to side. The Spanish doll waves her fan, and turns from side to side, too. Harlequin strums his mandolin and goes round in a circle. Astronomer spies nothing through his hand-held telescope as he goes round in a circle, looking up and down. Siamese twins, elbows out so that their arms form rectangular shapes, move their arms in opposite directions. (Apparently, Scottish has a sword under her chair, and one way of testing that they were dolls used to be to take the sword and pretend to run it through the doll. Ouch.)

Wait! there’s a cupboard in the corner. Swanilda, with all the girls’ eyes on her, opens it, and Coppelia is pushed out on her chair. Argh! Swanilda runs back to her friends. But Coppelia doesn’t do anything except sit there and read in the dim room.

So Swanilda and friends decide to greet her, and they all curtsey. Since Coppelia doesn’t respond, they curtsey again, even more deeply and politely, sinking closer to the ground. She doesn’t respond, so Swanilda goes closer to have a look. How odd, she tells her friends – Coppelia stares and stares at her book, and she doesn’t blink! (Big, blinky hands so we know what she’s saying.)

I dare you to tug at her skirt, says the brazen friend; or maybe it’s just a cheeky suggestion. Swanilda: Tug at her skirt? (PS: Brazen friend, for all her bravado and temper, would never be their ringleader, even if she’s got spirit. That’s another story.) Not just a tug, but a big pulling and waving of the skirt.

Swanilda does so, with a fabulous almost-180 degree arabesque (arabesque penche? forgot to write that in the last post). And then runs away, and covers her face. Some of them tease her (including brazen friend) when they find that her knees are knocking in terror.

Nothing has happened. So Swanilda goes over and checks out Coppelia again, while her friends watch/cower. She runs back to her friends to tell them the big news: Coppelia has no heartbeat. She is but a doll! just like the others.

Swanilda mimics Franz: me Franz, you Coppelia – down on one knee, how I love thee — he is in love with a doll, silly boy. Her world is all right again, her position by Franz’s side is safe — Coppelia is no competition. Full of glee and mischief once more, she tells the girls to set off all the dolls. (And because there’s enough music and it’s quite the children’s dance, there’s a lot of repeated miming, just like the skirt: all these dolls, set them off; all these dolls? yes, all of them.)

Led by Swanilda, the girls dance along, too. Even after the dolls have stopped, they’re still dancing away happily. Here’s the doll song.

But just then, who should barge in but Doctor Coppelius, in a real temper!

The girls scatter and hide behind the dolls. As he looks round for someone to catch, they start trying to escape. He almost catches Nanase – he does manage to whack the scared friend Kwok Min Yi — and so on and so forth, but they all make it out, leaving Akira and Swanilda, who is hiding in Coppelia’s cupboard, pressed against the wall.

Akira covers her face as she creeps out: If I don’t see him, he won’t see me. And Doctor Coppelius creeps up behind her…and just as she thinks that she’s safe, he claps his hands loudly behind her, scaring the beagles out of her, and she runs for it.

Doctor Coppelius pushes Coppelia back into the cupboard and shuts the doors. This gives Swanilda time to change into Coppelia’s costume and take her place, because that makes total sense (but hey, I’m not quibbling with a very old and well-loved ballet).

Oh phew, now he can have a drink by the table to the far right of the stage, near the Astronomer. So many bottles and cups, and a big book on the table. A regular Shakespearean kind of table.

But hark, the windows are opening! Doctor Coppelius wraps the scarf round his head and rests his head, and stretches out one arm, on the table, adding to the Bard feel. Who on earth would do that? That just about tells us how strange he’s become, poor old man.

Franz enters. Nazer’s Franz has this hilariously delighted look on his face.

Franz realizes he’s in a really strange place, but he doesn’t have time to explore – Doctor Coppelius is sneaking up on him as he makes his way into the room. Every time Franz turns around, though, Doctor Coppelius freezes in the standard mime doll-pose. Head tilted, back bent at an angle, arms up so his frame forms the top and sides of a rectangle, and feet apart. Finally, Doctor Coppelius can stand it no longer, and he spanks Franz and chases him for a bit.

Franz tries to explain: I came here to meet the beautiful girl.

Doctor Coppelius: Beautiful girl? (think think think – brainwave) OH! A beautiful girl! Hahaha! (At this point, he’s already decided to to steal Franz’s life-force.) Come, let’s be friends. (Proceeds to clasp and shake Franz’s hand. Uh-oh.)

Franz: I thought you were angry with me.

DC: You thought I was angry with you? Not at all! (Remember: repeated miming.)

Franz: I thought you were the devil. (Little devil horns and dancing.)

DC: You thought I was the devil? … Well, maybe. Heh, heh. — Well now, let’s have a drink. (This is quite funny, it involves kicking back and bowing with the matching leg and arm swinging back.)

Franz: Yes, let’s! (Does that twice.)

When Franz is seated at the table, Doctor C distracts him by pointing at something random. Franz (Nazer) obligingly stares and sees nothing, and is puzzled but still looks quite happy. Franz (Kenya) stares and sees nothing and thinks Doctor C is nuts, but whatever. Doctor C, meanwhilst, is adding something from a little bottle to the wine bottle, and he pours Franz a mug, and himself one. While Franz downs the drink, Doctor C pours it obviously over his shoulder. Same for the second one. Franz is getting groggy. A third! Franz says no, but Doctor C absolutely insists, and Nazer’s Franz good-naturedly obliges, and Kenya’s Franz can’t say no because he’s too groggy, so he goes with it, and it’s lights out for Franz now.

Doctor C quickly opens the cupboard. Coppelia emerges – but it’s now Swanilda, in Coppelia’s dress.

Repeat – to the left. It doesn’t take centre-stage. Possibly because there’s a reflective surface behind it. What a dress this is! When Swanilda pirouettes in it, it looks like a gauzy little house – a sloping roof, and walls of green.

coppeliadoll-village-male

It’s touching and a little sad, how Doctor Coppelius fusses over his ‘daughter’. He smoothens her hair, dusts her a little, fixes her skirt, and then spots that the book is upside-down, and turns it right-side up.

Here’s some of the music for the Franz’s scene, and then on to Doctor Coppelius. I like 0:32 to 0:52, it’s quite jolly. But oh, 1:51 onwards is the lovely moment when Doctor Coppelius is all alone with Coppelia. (It seemed creepy and strange when I first saw it, years ago/on DVD, though.) It’s so wistful and so stirring. I get goosebumps and feel tearful (metaphorically). It’s from the prelude too. Which sort of tells you that it’s Doctor Coppelius’ theme, and he matters too.

 

Doctor C then goes round checking the other dolls or something, and when he does so, Swanilda rushes over to try to wake Franz. But Doctor Coppelius is on his way back! So she has to stop in the middle of the room in a doll pose. She manages to trip him over, and when he tries to rise, she whacks downwards with her doll-arms. Eventually, he gets up and finds her standing some distance from her chair. She’s alive!!

Doctor C tries to magic some life into her and she blinks her eyes in tune with the music. So he takes more life-force from Franz (or so he thinks) and throws it at her, and she shrugs her shoulders and raises an arm. More magic! Arms are fine, now for legs, which he fixes by grabbing at the air around Franz’s legs. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he toddles about hurriedly, so desperately joyful. His method of madness includes flinging his big book of Magic onto the floor, kneeling by it, and muttering away.

Ah, now she can dance. Who can forget Li Jie turning round and round while working her arms up and down like a mechanical doll, going down a diagonal towards/ past Doctor Coppelius (0:25 onwards)?

It’s quite funny how the doll eventually can’t seem to stand upright, and Doctor Coppelius has to catch her and prop her up; and how she slumps sideways, and finally, forwards. Clearly, he needs more magic.

Now here comes the part on 2 casts’ interpretations, and I like them both.

Li Jie’s Swanilda is a very good doll who is fooling both Doctor Coppelius and the audience. This makes for intense, riveting watching. You can’t take your eyes off her. Every move is solidly imprinted in your memory, and there’s never a dull moment.

Chihiro’s Swanilda is a girl pretending to be a doll. Her gaze flicks over to Franz once or twice.

You see the great difference between these two interpretations now, when heart and soul are given to her.

Now that Swanilda’s come to life, with soft, human limbs, Doctor C is overcome with joy. You are beautiful, he assures her, and he passes her a mirror; and she does that scary thing, a developpe (drawing of the foot up the leg) and leans over in a long straight arabesque. Why would you do that — now that’s just showing off! But o, it’s so elegant, so gracious, so beautiful.

And then she turns into the normal pretty young lady shown her reflection for the first time, and starts walking away from him, preening. When Doctor C approaches, she shows him his reflection and that scares him. He hurriedly keeps the mirror.

More miming now, as he proudly tells her that he made all these dolls himself. O yes, that’s what the Burgermeister tells them when there’s an explosion from his house, you know — that he was once (always?) a wonderful doll-maker/ carpenter. And Swanilda (a little meanly, or else mischievously) says no, he’s just an old man. You don’t quite like Swanilda then. But she’s a little young and thoughtless and callous, that’s why. So pretty.

Well, that’s not a doll, she says of Franz; and she runs to him, but Doctor Coppelius says: No, no, it is a doll! come over here, dance.

Okay, so I suppose this is where he teaches her to dance. He takes the fan from Spanish signorita – and, this is very cute – he bows to her first. He demonstrates a few steps, and she takes it away from there.

 

Doctor C returns the fan with another bow (it did drop once, which borrowed time from Scottish, but no matter — Li Jie dived into Scottish without turning a hair). No need to bow when taking the sash from Scottish, though – attach with Velcro and show her how to snap her fingers and do a jig (if there’s time). Scottish is unexpectedly lengthy, loads of little kicks and jigging, and it was very, very impressive. Interestingly, Li Jie’s version is of a superb Scottish doll; Chihiro’s Swanilda makes faces at us as she finishes off with a very complicated bit that incorporates arms going up and down and such.

Here’s a version with music, but the dancing segment is shorter.

That’s the core difference. But even when they’re twirling round and round, you can see that Li Jie is just the most amazing Coppelia doll you’ll never have, because her Swanilda is just so accomplished at dancing; and Chihiro’s Swanilda is just as accomplished, but also definitely a young girl.

While Dr C returns the sash to Scottish, Swanilda decides that it’s time to stop playing around, and she heads over to Franz and tries to shake him awake. Dr C tries to stop her, so she dashes around knocking his dolls over and throwing his book on the ground (0:32 to 0:52 of the music I liked, mentioned above?). She even grabs a sabre from under Scottish’s chair and parries and thrusts to keep him away. As he tries to right the mess (since he can’t block her sword), she drops the sword, runs to the still-open window, and waves and shouts for help, so he grabs her and carries her away from the window, kicking and still shouting.

He pops her onto Coppelia’s chair and pushes her back into the cupboard, shutting the doors firmly on her.

Hurrah! her friends come rushing in to her rescue. You just know they’ve been wondering what to do… and now they start the dolls dancing again (which is why you hear that in the music below). Someone rescues Swanilda from the cupboard, Swanilda wakes Franz, and as Doctor Coppelius runs around in a tizzy (should he catch the girls or save the dolls? save the dolls, of course), the girls run out, leaving Swanilda and the now-awakened Franz.

And oh, at 1:54-ish below, Swanilda goes into the cupboard and pushes out Coppelia, who lies in her little beige leotard and stockings in a chair, limp and lifeless. As Franz and Swanilda run out, Doctor Coppelius realizes that his beloved daughter was never alive after all. He picks her up and carries her in his arms and makes his way to the front of the stage, broken and mourning. Oh, tears. It’s heartbreaking.

 

To save us the tears, there’s an Act III. An allegory and happy ending sewn in to make us all happy.

Here’s the music to lead us in.

 

Then enter these 12 ladies in the most absolutely stunning dresses – black bodices and skirts, silver trimmings, and gorgeous diaphanous silver sleeves.

coppelia-hours

And they look so amazing, and they dance to this brilliant, sparkling piece of music. They’re apparently some allegory about the 12 hours of the day. Listen to 2:40 and imagine them in rows of four, and with each important beat, row by row they carry out their moves – so orderly, and yet without being regimented. (I keep thinking this is when they sink row by row — from bended knee to kneeling).

So while they do dance in unison in rows, they also kneel in a circle (3:14 to 3:31) and then rise, one by one, to do a pirouette and pose before kneeling again. I love that bit. So.. hourly (I don’t care if it seems as subtle as a sledgehammer — it is just so lovely). The end sees them fading away so that Dawn can take centre stage (coming in from audience’s left).

 

All right! It’s time for Dawn, and there’s a lovely pink glow on the stage. Lighting is wonderful here, as always. Dawn wears a long pink dress with slightly puffed longish sleeves, and a headdress with little ribbons hanging down from it. If you watch her on Australian Ballet’s 1990 version, that dance is pretty much what we have here. And, I’m sorry to say, it’s not my favourite dance.  Just a matter of personal taste. Chua Bi Ru does a bright version of Dawn and puts her best foot forward (in a piece of choreography that is actually my least favourite in the whole ballet). Kwok Min Yi, interestingly, does a version of Dawn that has soft, gentle port de bras. When she stretches her arms up, she looks like the embodiment of a Dawn that is waking with the sun – a gentle, refreshingly new Dawn.

 

The lighting changes to noon, or to late afternoon. It’s time for Prayer, a girl in blue wearing a headdress with dangling ribbons, too. I know the picture below looks like it’s going to tell you “Sorry, this video is not available in your country”, but if you open it up, it shows you “40 Most Beautiful Orchestral Classics”. And boy, is it beautiful. 

Prayer has to do an arabesque penche slowly, leg right up behind her in the air as far as possible while her hands are together in prayer, and hold for at least a fraction of a second. That is no mean feat. Subsequently, she points her foot forward, and, as she lifts her corresponding hand up to join the other hand in prayer, she rondes (make a big circle of) her foot up in the air behind her and holds that there, while she does another of those big arabesques (imagine legs at 160 degrees, one foot on the ground!). She does that twice.

I love how, when Elaine Heng does that move, it looks as if she’s drawing her foot up on a string that’s attached to her fingers, and then when she leans forward, as if that brings her foot up.

The 2 interpretations of Prayer were very special. Elaine Heng was the gracious, benevolent, very genteel Prayer; goodness shining out of her face and every move. Every line was very clean and strong.

Sun Hong Lei — this is the first time she’s had a solo moment, I think, and I’ve a really soft spot for her dancing (hmm, I’ve a soft spot for them all), so I was glad to see her name beside Prayer. Sun Hong Lei drifts out as an absolutely ethereal, breathtaking Prayer — a prayer on a cloud — like a Chinese fairy or goddess out of a fairytale. Watching her Prayer scene is like watching a dream, or a vision, float gently and gracefully. There’s a part when one has to descend out of the arabesque i.e. lower one’s leg, without jerking one’s neck, and she does that very well, so that the vision continues without interruption.

Somewhere after all this, the Harvesters dance. Jerry Wan/Peter Allen, Agetsuma Satoru, Reece Hudson, Jeremie Gan. They are excellent, and the new dancers are good, strong additions to Singapore Dance Theatre. (Also, there were fans of Reece Hudson in the audience seated nearby. The audience may only applaud and not cheer, but those sitting in the audience may be fortunate enough to know.)

We have this next piece of music and I don’t know what it does. But I do know that I skipped a piece of music before that, and that the Burgermeister comes in with someone bearing a tray of money, and he gives it out to the betrothal couples. The lady ends up holding the bag, usually (Takeaki Miura, reluctantly, passes his to Nanase; Timothy Ng looks a little put-out initially; Xu Lei Ting and partner are quite peaceable about it).

Doctor Coppelius emerges from his house and pours out his woes. Swanilda feels guilty about the havoc wreaked, and she and Franz agree to hand him their bag of money. But the Burgermeister instead hands him two bags. Mollified and touched by the couple’s gesture, Doctor Coppelius hands Franz one of the bags and shakes hands with the couple.

The Betrothal couples dance, but I don’t know what they dance to. It looks difficult, though, which is why you have very good pairs dancing. Always looks like Sun Hong Lei and Timothy Ng make a good pair. The couples finish off by kneeling (one knee up) while facing the audience’s left, hands lifted to the sky.

Okay, pas de deux time. I don’t see the full dance here … is it here? There are great spins in a circle, which the Swanildas go through with ease. The part that looks difficult is hopping backwards, away from Franz, on one toe, but it looks good from whichever angle. I can’t remember much of Franz’s dancing except, I think, jumps in a circle on the stage. Whatever it is, both Franzes are fine.

Their piece includes pirouettes using Franz’s hand overhead as a semi-pivot (not totally gripping, I think?) and his hand at the side, to push off. It looks like Kenya gives Chihiro a bit of momentum, for the latter. There’s this fiendish bit for Swanilda, which involves relying solely on Franz (a one-hand grip) to do … a pirouette? and then immediately after, an arabesque while he walks her around quickly. She has only two points of contact at that point – one toe on the ground, and one hand in Franz’s. A friend commented on the issue of Swanilda death-gripping Franz’s hand, and I don’t know, but…as a matter of physics, it must be immensely difficult to survive on just one hand-hold.

At the end, Franz grasps Swanilda round the waist by one arm in a sort of fish dive (she facing the opposite direction, and upside down, legs kicked up). That always brings the house down.

Then it’s on to the finale. Hours leaping out in splits, pushing out their hands – Ruth Austin’s grace and strength standing out, and solid work from the backbone of SDT (dancers such as Yatsushiro Marina, Suzuki Mai, Ma Ni, Beatrice Castenada). Do you know — seeing them in a dance matters, because they’re familiar, good dancers to watch.

Everyone dancing out and then round the happy couple – Swanilda on her husband’s shoulder as he walks around, and then, as the curtain finally goes down, husband can set her back down on the floor again. Love this music — it’s so jolly.

And, on Saturday night, Franz was moved to tears again. The applause was all well-deserved: Franz breezed through his dances and was a joy to watch.

 

Sometimes, when I predict whether Coppelia is going to show, it’s based on whether I think they’re promoting or have just promoted someone. Coppelia, if you look backwards into SDT’s history, is used sometimes when new parties are promoted, or to showcase certain qualities. It’s hard, physically and mentally, to carry a show — so kudos to Nazer (with his great comic dramatic ability) and Li Jie.

It’s a good piece for everyone, really  – lots and lots of dancing for everyone, unlike Don Quixote, so it’s good for apprentices. Did I mention a new apprentice, Jessica Garside, who joined Hours? Good to see new faces. Also a first time seeing Valerie Yeo and Watanabe Tamana onstage, and they fitted into Hours with the rest.

If I could rewatch any part of Coppelia: Li Jie as Swanilda-Coppelia (one can’t get tired of it) and Chihiro as well, of course (again, one can’t get tired of this); the outstanding Mazurka; Kwok Min Yi’s Dawn, because it’s unfathomable how she made it look Dawn-like; Sun Hong Lei as the ethereal Prayer, to see how she does it (I suppose privately I’ve always thought of her as looking something like a Chinese goddess, and she danced very like one in this graceful dance).

And oh, the Hours in anything they did, including the finale. What music! What a dance. And what lovely dresses they had.

 

 

 

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