Edinburgh International Festival, Dance, Coppelia, Festival Theatre, Five Stars

Coppelia

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brenan

Five stars

“Reinventing humanity.” Bold and provocative words that govern all the activities of NuLife, the Silicon Valley laboratory where Doctor Coppelius pushes the limits of artificial intelligence with his robots.

Reinventing Coppelia: a bold, provocative – truly pioneering – production that sees this Scottish Ballet premiere push the boundaries of live stage performance. And if the Doctor’s radical experiments go adrift, the company’s new work – directed and choreographed by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple – is a creative triumph, where modern technologies interact with fiercely refined dance.

The plot is recognizable from that of the original 1870 ballet. Swanhilda is now a present-day journalist visiting NuLife with her fiancé Franz who falls in love with the Doctor’s latest creation, Coppelia – an on-screen beauty who enters (briefly) the real world. Why Franz (Simon Schilgen), who has a vital flesh-and-blood partner in Swanhilda, should find Coppelia so alluring is a compelling indicator of how screen images, avatars and the like have gained such traction in our everyday life. Plus, as Rimbaud Patron prowls in and out of the live action with his camera — real-time images projected onto a screen in the background — we’re reminded of how selfies and surveillance capture us, sometimes in secret.

Constance Devernay-Laurence is an exciting and fiery Swanhilda, bravely mingling with Coppelia’s on-screen image. The ensuing duet with Doctor Coppelius (an athletically boosted Bruno Micchiardi) shrewdly interrogates her intentions: he treats her like a toy, even as she plays him for a deceived fool. It’s quite convincing. As do the ensemble sections where robotic movements infiltrate cutting edge work, and the company is electrifyingly precise and in the groove. The specially composed music brings bits and pieces from Delibes’ score into a vibrant, witty mix of rhythms and atmospheric sounds – another incredibly detailed layer that, like the dance throughout, resonates with an inherently human intelligence.

Gerald R. Schneider