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Scottish Ballet “Coppélia” by Jess and Morgs. Photograph by Andy Ross. (1)

Future Tense

Scottish Ballet's “Coppélia” by Jess and Morgs

Performance
Scottish Ballet: “Coppélia” by Jess and Morgs
Place
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, September 22, 2022
Words
Lorna Irvine

The aesthetic is clear: a laboratory, all clean, ergonomic surfaces and clinical shiny spaces. Like any future focusing corporation, this is full of smiley, benign worker ants in preppy, GAP like workwear. But this is no prosaic company—this is Nu Life,  run by the sinister, megolamaniacal Dr Coppelius. Prototypes of a new doll litter the workspace: arms, heads and swipable screens, where a sex doll—very reminiscent of cinematic babes a la Metropolis, The Fifth Element  or Akira are being produced, en masse. Welcome to a clone for the dystopian tomorrow we’ve been warned about.

Jess and Morgs’ reimagining of “Coppélia,” the balletomane’s ballet, is an absolute cold white slab of genius. It’s a beast. It’s uncompromising. Truly special. Taking the audience on a voyeuristic trajectory into artifice, greed, and surveillance culture via Artificial Intelligence, the mind boggling execution of both film and choreography is proof that dance, tech and sexy scenography can be gorgeously integrated, without losing substance. It’s a well worn trope, but Jess and Morgs breathe new life into it, as the AI company name suggests. It’s one of the finest productions in years.

Constance Devernay-Laurence, Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Marge Hendrick, Harvey Littlefield and Javier Andreu in Scottish Ballet’s “Coppélia.” Photograph by Andy Ross

Scenes between front of stage and womblike passageways feel genuinely chilling. Augmenting the thrilling segues are the Scottish Ballet orchestra, whose soundtrack ranges from Gershwinesque moments to choppy electro percussion. It’s simply beautiful. Familiar phrasing from the original music score by Delibes is dragged into the twenty first century, and it induces much seat dancing.

The solos and group work are astonishing, wild pirouettes melt into a sexually charged, bizarre sci fi team building rave. One scene is reminiscent of Chris Cunningham’s disturbing video for Aphex Twin’s brilliant, bonkers Come To Daddy, all of the team are wearing the same mask and throwing shapes better suited to club kids than ballet performance.

Simon Schligen and Claire Souet in “Coppélia.” Photograph by Andy Ross.

Constance Devernay-Laurence’s feisty Swanhilda and Simon Schilgen’s Franz perform featherweight, fluttering pas de deux that have just a soupcon of tentative eroticism. These build the storyline of the duo’s relationship, from trust to doubt, as Franz becomes seduced by a Stepford Wife ideal, in spite of his best intentions.

Devernay-Laurence makes for a lead with plenty of sass and fierce autonomy. As she frantically resists becoming enmeshed within the machine, jutting, angular movements act as a facsimile of automaton precision, but the ever watching camera picks up on tells: beads of sweat, a quick, ragged breath, eyes widening at the implicit horror unfolding in front of her. Will she be chipped like the others? A superb solo seems to imply the workings of her interior monologue, pared down tick tick ticking percussion wraps around her. But as she is confidently spinning en pointe, her eyes are somewhere else, alert and primed.

There’s a lot to be said for a production which never panders to the audience—where lesser shows rely on heavy narrative signposting, “Coppélia” simply dripfeeds the action, taking its time. There’s no emotional manipulation here, or trite, join the dots exposition.

Bruno Micchiardi as Dr Coppelius in “Coppélia.” Photograph by Andy Ross

But it’s the nefarious B.I.G. himself, Dr Coppelius, who roots the performance in Machiavellian wonder, with catlike bendiness, a suggestive flick of the wrist here, a city slicker strut there. He’s a subtle, slinky tomcat, Bruno Micchiardi, never overegging the insidious cult leader qualities. His solos are fleet of foot and playful, charismatic as all the best despots are. He’s always watchful, constantly generating, duplicating an army of pink haired dolls like DNA charts. But his foil, small, smart Swanhilda is nobody’s plaything, and she’s one pointe shoe step ahead every time. And time is running out . . .

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