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COPPELIA (article first published : 1999-06-27)

Running in the Playhouse Drama until July 3 is a delightful interpretation of Coppélia, the comic ballet about a mechanical doll and its doddering creator set to music by Léo Delibes with Mark Hawkins providing additional choreography to Marius Petipa and Arthur St Léon’s original work.

This is a Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company production in association with the Playhouse Company, proving that ballet is still alive and well in KZN despite the disbanding of the Playhouse Dance Company. In fact, former PDC members make up the core of FFFDC – the exquisite Mary-Ann de Wet being the new company’s most powerful asset.

Fantastic Flying Fish’s artistic director Mark Hawkins, formerly artistic director of the PDC, decided to `go for broke’ and launch his own company. Fighting (as are all sections of the arts) the unending battle for funding, the FFFDC has not only survived a full year but Coppélia marks its sixth production. This followed shortly after the company’s return from a successful six-city tour of Taiwan and, once the curtain comes down on Coppélia on July 3, they’re off to Grahamstown where they will present two programmes at the Standard Bank National Arts Festival.

Coppélia sees Mary-Ann de Wet and Renè Olivier alternating in the role of Swanhilda, the perky village lass who gets fed up when her fiancé Franz starts making eyes at a mechanical doll (a suitably inanimate Megan Reid) perched on a balcony and then ignores her and dances gaily at the village celebrations with the inn-keeper’s daughter (nice performance by Cheryl Burger who swops with Angela Lardant).

The role of Franz is shared by Andries Weidemann, appearing courtesy of The State Theatre Ballet, and Dean Bennewith. When I saw the show, Renè and Dean were dancing. They made a good partnership with Renè’s spunky, sprightly energy matching Dean’s sturdy performance. It’s good to see Renè back in Durban, albeit on a working holiday as she is now with the Alberta Ballet in Canada. I haven’t seen their performance but I have heard fine reports about Mary-Ann and Andries. So, why not go on two nights and see the change of cast?

David Gouldie is truly and utterly delightful as the doddery Dr Coppélius, at first filled with joy that his precious toy has come to life (a quick switch by Swanhilda in a moment of mischief) and then devastated when he discovers the truth. With his trailing scarf and thick glasses that perpetually slip down his nose, he totters around in a myopic daze. FFFDC is indeed lucky in having David as its resident choreographer

Peter Taylor and Belinda Harward appear in the non-dancing roles of the Burgomaster and his wife, lending a nobility and style to the occasion. However, there was much `business’ downstage during the village dancing involving beer drinking, which often came dangerously close to upstaging the action.

Ballet mistress Dianne Richards has done a fine job, as always, in producing an all-round classical discipline in the company, particularly with Swanhilda’s friends Leanne Heystek, Nicole McCreedy, Catherine Royce, Angela Lardant, Cheryl Burger and Louise Fraquet. The men are all in fine form and it’s good to see familiar faces back again such as Quinton Ribbonaar, Vusi Thabethe and Itumeleng Mokgope. The Mazurka/Czardas was supplemented by FFFDC Scholarship class members, all showing signs of a sound training which is to prepare them for a career in dance.

Peter Cazalet’s costume designs are crisp, clean and elegant and Richard Parker’s lighting well-placed and controlled. The same can hardly be said for the set. While presenting an impressive image, it is showing distinct signs of wear and tear and actually came apart at one stage! However, such problems apart, Coppélia is an enchanting production and all kudos is due to FFFDC and the Playhouse Company – hopefully this is the start of many more successful collaborations.


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