I try to expose my 4 year old son to a wide variety of cultural experiences, hoping that at some point he’ll either stumble across something he will love, or that it will help him have a better understanding of the arts and learn to appreciate them. It was with this in mind that I took him to see Coppélia at The Lowry. It was a child accessible matinee performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet, the first steps performance has been specially adapted for children aged 3-7 years.
Coppélia is in the middle of a short run at The Lowry. The production tells the story of an eccentric toymaker called Dr Coppélius who wants to bring his mechanical doll Coppélia to life. In the story Dr Coppélius puts the beautiful doll in his window and she soon attracts the attentions of a local boy, Franz, who becomes infatuated with her. His girlfriend Swanhilde pretends to be the doll and manages to save Franz from an untimely demise at the hands of Dr Coppélius.
The hour long interactive performance includes a storyteller who helps to set the scene and introduces the children to the music and characters.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet have created a fantastic, accessible piece for children. The scenery is really rich and opulent and the costumes really pop out. The dancers are fantastic, with the “doll” Swanhilde being especially doll-like and funny. It’s a witty performance of a witty ballet and one which children could fairly easily follow and understand.
The First Steps performance just featured Act II, which was just enough. My small boy has a short-ish attention span and was actively interested in what he saw on stage, he sat for the most part perfectly still and in silence, which is an great indication of how good it was (he can barely sit still through an episode of Peppa Pig). He was a bit wary of the dark but overcame that by holding my hand throughout.
There were a lot of little girls there in their ballet outfits, though not many boys there, which is a shame, but it was one of the reasons why I brought my son. If more children, especially boys are exposed to the joy of dance then more of them might take it up, or at least learn not to mock it and the arts so mercilessly.
I must mention the Royal Ballet Sinfonia who were fabulous and I’d love to hear them again. As a lapsed French Horn player I have a soft spot for a decent orchestra and I was not disappointed. After the performance ended the Sinfonia played on, so the small boy and I went and watched them for a few minutes.
After the performance the dancers who played Swanhilde, Franz and Dr Coppélius were available to meet and have their pictures taken, which was a lovely thing, especially for all the little dancers in their tutus to do.
I think First Steps into Ballet is an excellent thing for children (and ballet curious adults) to do. I’ll definitely be looking out for more accessible performances like this. My only criticism is the timing of it, it was on a school day so I think a lot of older kids might have missed out on going to something they would have really appreciated. But otherwise, bravo Birmingham Royal Ballet. Bravo.