Coppélia is originally a comic ballet based on the writings of Prussian romantic author, E.T.A. Hoffman. It tells the tale of Dr Coppélias, who creates a lifelike doll so beautiful that Franz, a young man from the village, abandons his flesh and blood lover, Swanhilda, to pursue the doll, Coppélia. Feathers of Daedalus Circus has taken this story and fashioned it into a multi-disciplinary performance piece that is, unfortunately, something of a Frankenstein’s monster; there’s beauty in its soul but it’s hard to love.

Too many ideas were thrown at the stage and it created a performance that was less than the sum of its parts.

We open with three dancers as ballerina dolls who act as a Greek chorus for the piece. The dolls introduce us to Dr Coppélias and his creation around whom the story will revolve and we experience the first of many short abstract films that are projected on a distant, small screen. Shortly after this we meet Franz and Swanhilda who dance a seemingly out of place jive before the first of several spoken word recordings are played. These seem completely at odds with the rest of the show; written and performed by Sophie Leseberg Smith, they’re solid performances but it’s jarring to hear that classic spoken word cadence and accent played over the action. I find myself wondering if it might have been better to have this narrate the entire piece rather than drop in between the mix of classical and contemporary music.

As the story progresses, the cast perform dance, cyr wheel, Chinese pole and acrobalance but none of it manages to be very engaging. The circus skills are often side-lined by the dancers being on stage and blocking the sightlines or a routine will begin and end before the audience has had a chance to react. Circus should be paced with clear beats for the audience to applaud or gasp and yet each routine moves on so quickly that the entire show plays out to a stony silence from the crowd.

There are moments that lift the piece; the ballerina dolls choreography is a lovely mix of delicate ballet and rigid movement that works well to establish their non-humanity, there’s some real skill shown on the Chinese pole by Gabbie Cook’s Swanhilda and the fusion of dance and acrobalance is well done in the interactions between Josh Frazer’s Doctor and Tessa Blackman’s Coppélia.

Taking abstract film projections, collage and spoken word performances and attempting to merge them with dance and circus means that the whole piece feels disjointed. Perhaps this was an intentional move on the part of the creative team but it creates a jarring shift each time we change from one art form to another. The music is equally lacking in flow and the piece would have benefited from sticking to one genre of music for the entirety of the show.

I really wanted to love Coppélia but it felt like too many ideas were thrown at the stage and it created a performance that was less than the sum of its parts.

Reviews by Frodo Allan

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The Blurb

Following the success of Alice in 2016, The Feathers of Daedalus Circus present Coppélia. The infamous ballet of a mechanical doll is stripped bare, swallowed and spat out through the compelling voice of contemporary circus. The powerful story of infatuation, mechanisation and domination will be realised in an experimentally surrealist, multidisciplinary fashion. Circus, 16mm film and spoken word sit side by side in a unique examination of love: paternal, possessive, unrequited, unknown. Coppélia explores what happens when desire dominates reason, when jealousy leads sanity astray and when, as so often in love, all is not quite as it seems.

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