I never really thought that I’d come out of a ballet performance with a head full of ideas and the need to talk them out with the Lovely Wife over some drinks, but that was last Saturday. Even more so, the ballet was one I had seen performed several times, one that usually I would have described as being slight, sweet and a bit silly and mercifully short.
Let me clarify – I never went to see a ballet before being married to the Lovely Wife, and largely we started going because she loves dance and form. I’ve since become a bit of a convert as what the dancers can do on stage is extremely impressive – I am hugely impressed by the combination of strength and grace that is needed and the patterns formed on stage are something beautiful to behold. But most ballets don’t have anything to engage you emotionally beyond the beauty of the spectacle and some are ridiculously long – e.g., The Sleeping Beauty, where the last act is just a series of dances where all the wedding guests get to dance – at least once – with at every other guest long after the ‘plot’ has long since been resolved. I was bored stiff by the time it finished and the experience wasn’t improved when I found out that the version, we had seen was the short version, over an hour shorter than the original which is over 4 hours long.
So, the ballet last Saturday was Copelia. Usually is a period piece where a somewhat sinister doll maker makes the eponymous doll which bewitches the somewhat useless boyfriend of the female principal, who later must pretend to be the doll come to life to hoodwink the Doll maker and rescue the aforementioned pathetic paramour for the inevitable if a little unrealistic happy ending. But it has its laughs and allows for plenty of folk dances to fill in the meagre plot.
But this version was very, very different. It is a production by Scottish Ballet that was on a brief visit (only 4 performances) at Saddler’s Wells in North London. Instead of dolls we are looking NuLife Corporation, a shady technology company dealing in AI and intent on creating a ‘better than life’ range of automatons under the overpowering influence of its technically brilliant – and massively egotistical – CEO, the dance artist dressed all in black and a weird mixture of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk; our heroine is the reporter who is there to get an exclusive interview and gets far more than she bargained for, while accompanied by her sweet but ineffectual fiancé.
I have to say, that it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. The dancing was superb and expressive (in particular the initial pas a deux between our heroine and her lover, where the fact they were wearing business attire somehow made the dancing much more intimate in tone, beautifully establishing their romantic bond); the designs simple and stark and mixed clever set design with integrated live and recorded film sequences giving a feel of a huge research facility beyond the limitations of the stage itself and best of all it was an intense 80 minutes or so, straight through and hardly giving you a chance to catch breath. The updating of the story worked well and felt very current, albeit sometimes a little obvious (e.g., the Musk references).
But it is also a joy to see a strong female lead in a ballet that you can actually care about and root for – as well as enjoying the beauty of the dancing. I was not expecting a tense and satisfying SF adventure and the experience was all the better for it.
I cannot recommend this production enough, and if it comes anywhere near you, please go – and it would be a great production to take someone to who has never seen a ballet or thinks they wouldn’t like it – because there is so much more to enjoy. Hopefully there will be a filmed version to enjoy at some point because I would happily watch this again and again – and I never thought I would every react that way to a ballet.
The ballet in question: