Edinburgh International Festival



Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

Five stars

‘Reinventing humanity.’ Bold, provocative words that govern every activity at NuLife, the Silicon Valley lab where Doctor Coppelius is stretching the boundaries of Artificial Intelligence with his robots.

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

The plot line is recognisably akin to that of the original 1870 ballet. Swanhilda is now a present-day journalist visiting NuLife with her fiancé Franz who becomes smitten with the Doctor’s latest creation, Coppelia – an on-screen beauty who (briefly) enters the real world. Why Franz (Simon Schilgen), who has a vital, flesh and blood partner in Swanhilda, should find Coppelia so alluring is a cogent pointer to how screen imagery, avatars et al have gained such traction in our daily lives. Moreover, as Rimbaud Patron prowls in and out of the live action with his camera – real-time footage projected on an upstage screen – we’re reminded of how selfies and surveillance capture us, sometimes secretly.

Constance Devernay-Laurence is a thrillingly mettlesome Swanhilda, bravely melding with Coppelia’s on-screen image. The ensuing duet with Doctor Coppelius (an athletically hyper-charged Bruno Micchiardi) astutely questions his intentions: he treats her like a plaything, even as she plays him for a deluded fool. It is utterly compelling. As are the ensemble sections where robotic movements infiltrate pointe-work, and the company are electrifyingly precise and in the groove. The specially composed music brings morsels of Delibes’s score into a vibrant, witty mix of beats and atmospheric sounds – another awesomely detailed layer that, like the dancing throughout, resonates with an intelligence that is intrinsically human.