The Royal New Zealand Ballet's Christmas production of Coppelia is everything the dance of the dolls should be: gorgeous to look at, light and fluffy, full of humour and jokes, which everyone gets, and danced to an absolutely charming T.

It is a work that shows off perfectly a ballet company that is even younger and fresher than usual, due to a large turnover in company members in recent months.

They look right at home in the happy harvest festival opening scene, with a wedding in the air; led by a young and vivacious heroine, the bride-to-be Swanhilde, and her flirtatious fiance.

They look right at home also in the naughty second act, breaking into the mysterious Dr Coppelius' dark and vaguely frightening workshop to get even with the strange and beautiful girl who has appeared there and refuses to respond to friendly gestures.

The last of the traditional ballets, Coppelia provides a great opportunity for a ballet company to strut its fancy footwork and classical flair, and there is not a single disappointing moment in this regard.

The girls' ensembles are pretty and perfectly in line, and Franz's friends show a great deal of promise in their vigorous and elegant display.

The exquisite Yu Takayama was Swanhilde on Auckland's opening night, and completely won the audience's heart with her quicksilver footwork and lively expression: feisty, funny and never a nuance out of place.

Mikhael Plain was her Franz, and though convincing as the rogue with a roving eye, never quite matched Takayama's energy in the romance department.

The third act of Coppelia is always a little strange. With the story told and the mystery solved, the wedding seems more of an add-on than a satisfying conclusion.

The heavy blue tutus in the Star dance are a visual shock after the sunny apricots and other harvest colours that have gone before.

Chantelle Kerr and Monique Richards dance the Dawn and Prayer solos beautifully - but what does it all mean?

And in this final act a problem that began as a slight niggle earlier is more obvious as Takayama and Plain continue their virtuosic turns.

The timing is distinctly out. Perhaps conductor Marc Taddei had a post-show commitment and was anxious to get through the score just a fraction faster than usual?


* What: Coppelia

* Where: Aotea Centre

* Reviewer: Bernadette Rae