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Review: Coppelia is a fun, magical ballet

When is a ballet a comedy? When it’s Coppelia. Toss out your notions of tragic love stories and dying swans. This is a spectacle of fun and laughter that had the Abu Dhabi audience laughing out loud on Friday night.

That’s right — a thousand grown-ups (and a fair few entranced little girls, I must add) giggling at a ballet.

Thanks must be given first to the American Ballet Theatre, the long-established company that brought Arthur Saint-Leon’s 1870 ballet to the Abu Dhabi Festival for two sold-out performances (they also perform on Saturday night). Their wonderful performance reminds us that a ballet dancer must be able to express emotion as much through mime as through dance. Every gesture, especially during the dynamic second act, was on point, with the slightest nod from zany Dr Coppelius or the fidelity-challenged Franz (Daniil Simkin) evoking an audience reaction in every row of the Emirates Palace auditorium.

Friday night’s performance was doubly special; not only was it a revival of the original staging of Coppelia, it was also the debut of Misty Copeland in the lead role of Swanhilde, what would have been a special occasion for her and a unique one for a UAE audience.

If any 13-year-olds reading are being told they are too old to start dancing ballet, take inspiration from Copeland: She began ballet aged 13 and was winning awards two years later. That being said, she’s clearly gifted, so perhaps we can’t all pick up our pointe shoes again, whatever our age.

Copeland’s impeccable technique was on show throughout the performance but this viewer’s favourite moments had to be in the second act, when she fools Dr Coppelius’ into thinking he’s magically brought his treasured life-size doll, Coppelia, to life, and literally dances rings around him, an absolute joy to watch as she mixes breath-taking steps with cheeky personality.

Saturday night’s performance of Coppelia at Emirates Palace is sold out; however there may be return tickets available from the box office an hour before the show. The final event of the Abu Dhabi Festival is Tuesday’s Bayt Al Farabi: Michel Fadel. Tickets are Dh125-350.