Vibrant, colourful and humorous, English National Ballet’s Coppélia is a delightful entertainment. On Tuesday evening Tamara Rojo was a witty and astute Swanilda who was well aware that her fiancé Franz (Yonah Acosta) could not resist chatting up a new girl in town. Michael Coleman’s Dr Coppélius was a doddery and at times almost endearing, old man; a quack scientist whose experiments were fantastic rather than sinister. If he lived today, he would probably be manufacturing phoney diet pills for the naïve and gullible.

The set was elaborate and the stage sometimes seemed very full, particularly in the first act during the character dances. From the outside Dr Coppélius’ house looked far too wobbly for Franz’s ladder to lean against, but the interior in the second act was a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of an attic, mysteriously dim where dolls merged into the shadows. Rojo is an excellent mime who can turn on a theatrical sixpence, changing from mischievous village girl to haughty Spanish dancer with a flick of a fan. She and Coleman really carried the plot. Acosta is an exciting dancer and neither he nor Rojo lacks courage, but a little less risk might have made some of their lifts a lot more elegant. They both danced magnificently on their own, but Rojo actually made me forget that she was dancing, which is a greater achievement.

Other highlights for me were Lauretta Summerscales’ miraculously calm adage as Prayer, and Dawn, danced by Shiori Kase. One of my favourite dancers, Kase moved with grace and charm, her feet seeming to quiver in the air.

The orchestra, energetically conducted by Alex Ingram, played a clearly familiar score with gusto, and the audience loved the show. English National Ballet is the only English ballet company complete with orchestra to visit Oxford regularly, and it was a great pleasure to see them here again.

Maggie Watson

29 October 2014