KVN Dance Company’s Coppelia at The Cockpit Theatre

Posted: September 14th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on KVN Dance Company’s Coppelia at The Cockpit Theatre

KVN Dance Company, Coppelia, The Cockpit Theatre, September 2

KVN Dance Company in Coppelia
KVN Dance Company in Coppelia © Andrea Whelan

In 1934, Adrian Stokes wrote about the relationship between action and music in ballet: “The action does not interpret the music, nor the music the action. They would appear to belong to different atmospheres. Yet they cannot be held apart, since the picture they compose is unforgettable.” This is very much the impression of the opening night of KVN Dance Company’s Coppelia at The Cockpit Theatre. Here the ‘different atmospheres’ include the costumes, sets and lighting, each on their individual layers of experience, that combine with the cast to create a high-octane performance that is in turn heightened by the proximity of the audience to the action.  

This is not a revival of the already much revived Coppelia choreographed in 1870 by Arthur Saint-Léon to a score by Léo Delibes, but, borrowing from contemporary musical jargon, a re-mix. Taking the traditional ballet’s narrative structure as a starting point, choreographer/director Kevan Allen, composer Rickard Berg and sound designer Henri Latham-Koenig have produced a masterful mashup of dance styles, sounds and popular Delibes tunes with turntable-inspired rhythms and beats that transform the action into the immediate present. Wendy Olver’s costumes, too, displace the characters from classical ballet to a sophisticated enclave of extrovert bohemians, in contrast to Justin Williams’ modular set retaining the sylvan character of the original. Throughout KVN Dance Company’s production of Coppelia these similarities to and divergences from the traditional ballet endlessly encourage and subvert our expectations. 

Coppelius is a maker of automata, or mechanical dolls, and his great project is to give life to one of them, his ‘daughter’ Coppelia. His persona is a fusion of three characters in ETA Hoffman’s eerie psychological short story, Der Sandmann. One is a shady itinerant oculist selling lenses, another an alchemist and the third a physics professor versed in occult sciences with a Promethean desire to create life in his mechanical dolls (Der Sandmann was published just two years before Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein). There is no place for the uncanny in the Delibes score, however, with the result that Saint-Léon’s doctor is downgraded to an eccentric but misguided doll maker in a small German village. Despite Allen’s desire to question “why Dr. Coppelius was so intent on creating a life-sized clockwork doll for himself”, and his brief suggestion of an answer in erotic gratification, his characterization of Coppelius (Michael Downing), remains — despite Berg’s promptings — more Saint-Léon than Freud.

Allen maintains the traditional setting of the ballet, dividing the action between the village square outside Dr. Coppelius’ studio in Act 1 and the inside of his workshop in Act 2. With a quick reversal of elements, Williams’ set suggests what is outside and what is inside, but they are insufficient to counter the choreographic similarity between the acts, making the two joined scenes of the second act appear a variation of the first. This is also because Olver’s tastefully exaggerated costumes blur the distinction of the characters between villagers and a successful rollout of Coppelius’ dolls. In the first act the balance of all the elements works so well that the occasional longueurs of classical ballet — the drawing out of the narrative into entertaining divertissements — appear to pass over into the latter part of the production. Nevertheless, the thread of the story is still clear through the interactions between Franz (Danny Fogarty), Swanhilda (Marina Fraser) and the doctor, while the other characters swirl around and through them as forces that maintain their prodigious energy and colour from beginning to end. 

KVN’s remix of Coppelia is Allen’s first production for his new company and is clearly a vehicle for his brand of artistic fusion. Under Mike Robertson’s lighting, the costumes, music, sound and choreography work brilliantly together, each egging the others on to greater expression, but by the end the story tends to melt away into the performance. It begs the question of what Allen will do next with his expressive palette. There is a sharpness and an awareness in his choreography that points perhaps to an energetic satire, a field of dance that is sadly under-represented in an era that desperately needs it. Rather than following the well-mined route of updating classical ballets, Allen and his team could give a contemporary choreographic edge to a period costume drama, for example, or a comedy of errors. With a sharper focus, their populist approach, humorous touch, choreographic asides and excellent handling of form could provide a vital antidote to the current sense of malaise.   

Eirini Apostolatou: Phaedra

Posted: August 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Eirini Apostolatou: Phaedra

Eirini Apostolatou, Phaedra, Cockpit Theatre, August 4

Eirini Apostolatou in Phaedra

Eirini Apostolatou in Phaedra

Sand is impossible to hold together. Mould it to whatever shape you wish and it will soon crumble; scoop it up in your hands and it will gradually slip through your fingers. Eirini Apostolatu’s performance of Phaedra is built on sand that along with the bone dry, sun-dried branches becomes an extension of her self. Even her costume of a boned bodice over a flowing muslin dress is sand coloured. She is mired in sand, burdened down with it on her entrance and even when she leaves the stage the sand sticks to her feet. Sand is a glorious metaphor for her shifting state of mind, a state that is in the process of falling apart, collapsing, about to reduce into its tiniest components.

The stage at the Cockpit Theatre is small, surrounded on three sides by seating and covered in patches of thick dry sand. In the course of her 20-minutes solo Apostolatou becomes the very sand in which she moves, rising, falling, rolling and slithering with the quality of dry water. Sand muffles sound, too, so Apostolatou’s movements are eerily silent; the only sound comes from the pre-recorded sound of waves (a metaphor of washing or cleansing) mixed with narrated extracts from the ancient Greek play, Hippolitus, by Euripides.

This is where the creative elements begin to come unstuck. Whereas the physical qualities of Apostolatou’s performance are very real (her ability to throw herself into the air, land like a rag doll and resolve the movement seamlessly to the upright again is worth the price of the ticket), the context is almost apocryphal: there is very little in what Apostolatou does to link her inescapably to the story of Phaedra or the story of Phaedra to her. What we see is a woman whose physical contortions — her gestures and postures of despair and regret — reflect an anguished state of mind but they exist as if in a vacuum. There is no history, except what is written in the program notes: we meet Apostolatou at some point on her journey as she staggers in bent under the weight of her burden but we do not know where she has come from. When she leaves the stage she is calmer and more upright than at the beginning as if she has exorcised her demons in the dance and come to terms with her fate but we don’t know where she is going. The performance is thus more like an abstraction of grief and despair rather than a narrative portrayal of an epic character. Perhaps this is what the program notes mean by calling the work a deconstruction of the story of Phaedra (the program notes are not otherwise particularly coherent) but then the work could be titled simply Grief and the context of Euripides would slide through Apostolatou’s fingers as quickly as the sand.

This instability between concept and performance may indicate a divergence between Apostolatou, who is credited with choreography and Christiana Ioannou who conceived and directed the work. Whatever the reason, there is a sense of temporal inertia in the work; it seems to have no beginning or end (the end is so attenuated as to delay any audience reaction because we are unsure it has happened). Another element that reinforces this weak sense of time passing is that despite changes in physical dynamic, Apostolatou’s features barely register the changes. I don’t feel her mind is going on the same journey as her body and it leaves a dramatic gap in expression between the physical and the emotional; real time passes but psychological time barely moves. It is a shame as Apostolatou clearly has the capacity and the intensity but she needs direction that will channel these qualities inside a well-conceived framework.