Scottish Ballet’s Coppélia: updating an age-old tale with new technologies
There’s a beautiful symmetry at play in Scottish Ballet’s new production. A show about two female characters that blend into each other is created by two real women whose creativity blends seamlessly.
Tasked with reinventing the 19th century ballet Coppélia, Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple returned to the company after the success of their dance films Tremble and The Secret Theatre. But this time, they challenged themselves to mix film and live action.
World premiering at the Edinburgh International Festival next August, their reimagined Coppélia will merge on-stage dances, pre-recorded films and real-time video footage captured by dancers during the performance. Add to that their brand new synopsis, which swaps a quaint Austrian village for Silicon Valley, and they have their work cut out for them.
It’s just as well that Wright and Runacre-Temple (or “Jess & Morgs” as they’re known professionally) get along well, having first met while they were both training at the Central School of Ballet. “We’ve been best friends for 20 years and we’ve worked together for 15,” says Wright. “So sometimes I don’t know where I end and Morgs begins, or where my idea ends and his begins. We often ask which is the director and which is the choreographer? Or who did this scene and who did this scene? But we really don’t work like that.
“There’s very little conceptual, visual or choreographic stuff where we could say one of us did this and the other did that – there’s a lot of overlap. And I think that works because we really trust each other and use each other as a sounding board. But we also really question each other and have solid debates. »
“We have such a common language and our voices are so intertwined,” acknowledges Runacre-Temple. “So nothing feels personal or difficult – we’re always able to tell ourselves ‘this is good’ or ‘this is bad’.”
The duo first worked with Scottish Ballet in 2019, creating the dynamic short Tremble, which saw 26 dancers wearing wobbly jellies in an abstract dining hall. The Secret Theatre, released to great acclaim for Christmas 2020, cemented their relationship with the company and paved the way for this highly innovative work – a project that not everyone in ballet would necessarily associate with.
“There is a real misunderstanding at Scottish Ballet around what ballet is,” says Runacre-Temple. “It’s not a company where ballet is revered as something sacred, and they don’t cling to a very traditional idea of what ballet should be. Which is liberating, because it makes all the dancers and the general Scottish Ballet environment quite fluid and playful – and that’s great for the kind of work we’re trying to create.
“What we’re doing is breaking the mold a bit,” adds Wright. “But what’s special about working with a company over a long period of time is that you develop a shared understanding and ambition. So we are already on the same page and can just dive deep into it. Which is also very good with the dancers, because we worked a lot with them on films, but now we also ask them to operate the cameras, so it’s a new challenge. But they are always very open and curious, which makes us happy.
One of the dancers is Bruno Micchiardi, who takes on the role of Dr. Coppelius – a former carpenter who dreamed of bringing his doll to life, now a top Silicon Valley CEO. As with the original, young Franz has his head turned by Dr. Coppelius’ beautiful invention, Coppélia (now a groundbreaking piece of AI), much to the chagrin of his fiancée. But here, Swanhilda is an investigative reporter eager to dig deeper into Dr. Coppelius’ lab.
“Jess and Morgs have incredibly unique ideas,” says Micchiardi, “and I think what makes them special as choreographers and directors is that they work as a duo. They’re both full of amazing ideas, but they also bounce off each other. One of them will say: ‘How about we do this?’ and the other says, “Oh yeah, and then let’s add this” – and that’s what brings out the best in them both.
The dancers usually have to make sure their movement and intention goes far beyond the front row, but by using the real-time camera in this new production, they can afford to be a bit more subtle.
“I love working in front of the camera,” says Micchiardi. “It allows for so much nuance that you might miss if you’re sitting at the back of the stalls. While on camera, you can see every little quirk, every raised eyebrow. This new release is all about technology and I think the fact that we’re portraying that not just through the story itself, but using such awesome technology live on stage is so original. It’s also very funny – I was in stitches learning it and I think audiences will react to it very well.
The spirit is something that Coppélia and the Jess & Morgs style have in common. They may have changed things up a bit, but it was Coppélia’s inherent humor that attracted Wright and Runacre-Temple in the first place.
“It’s kind of comedic and dark at the same time, which I think still has a draw for us,” Wright says. “We are interested in both ends of the spectrum and where they can meet. Technology is at the heart of Coppélia, and obviously that technology looked completely different when the ballet was created – we no longer think of a wooden doll or a carpenter.
“Technology has updated and that’s why we put it in Silicon Valley, with inventors, data and unregulated power. So the world, tone, and visual imagery will be very different from the traditional version and hopefully feel contemporary and fresh, but the story itself should still be recognizable.
Scottish Ballet’s Coppélia is at the Festival Theater from August 14-16, www.eif.co.uk