Dance / “Unhinged”, The Training Ground. At Erindale Theatre, until July 29. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL.
DRAMATIC video footage, an eclectic soundtrack and immaculately presented dancers take the audience on a journey through “Unhinged”, a twist on the classic ballet “Coppelia” and the third production from The Training Ground (TTG), choreographed by founders Bonnie Neate and Suzy Piani.
Dr Coppelius (Imogen Addison) who lives in her doll-making factory, unveils her newest creation: Coppelia (Larina Bagic).
Despite the protestations of the Head Doll (Isabelle Becvarik), Coppelia has been tempted to join the real world in awe of local cad Franz (Joshua Walsh, who takes the lead and solo male role for his third production with TTG).
The initially unsophisticated Franz is currently being seduced by Swanhilda (Alice Collins), a stage-five clinger, expressively gesturing and posturing at him, all over the streets of Paris.
When Swanhilda and Coppelia clash, worlds begin to collide and jealousy and possessiveness spiral out of control.
Addison, in her depiction of the doll maker, delivers a good balance of quirkiness, humour, authority and desperation. Her early duet with Coppelia sets this up nicely. Her first costume, while it blended well with the cast, was understated and too plain for the role.
Franz’s black shirt and pants were underwhelming and some colour or distinct costume to tie him in with the “village” girls would have been better suited. Walsh’s choreographic role in this production was mostly a partnering one, which he does comfortably and assuredly.
Bagic’s dancing is effortless – whether partnering with Walsh or dancing solo. Her flexibility and surety give her an air of confidence and the choreography allows scope to showcase the ease and skill with which she dances. Attractive pas de deux create lovely leg lines and holds. Coppelia remains doll-like in her lack of expression and emotion, even when she ventures into Franz’s world. Their short dance to begin Act II was poignant and lovely.
The female ensemble, displaying incredible stamina, play the dolls and the “village” girls, Swanhilda’s friends. With immaculate hair and make-up giving them all a wide-eyed, blank stare, attractively sparkled unitards and some dazzlingly quick costume changes, the precision and staging is such that even the difference in heights and bodies almost goes unnoticed. Their early Act II number, set in the streets of Paris is particularly appealing, with playful choreography, hinting at the chorus lines of Parisian cabaret.
The dolls’ costumes strike the right note with reference to ballet corsetry and clearly depict dress-making dolls, with stitching and ribbons, and incomplete creations, even down to the differing lengths of the stitched ribbons.
Several formations and line work is also clearly inspired by the classical ballets. The rigid, staccato, almost militantly-styled ensemble choreography that has been the staple of TTG’s shows suited this production exceptionally well.
The inclusion of more fluid movements including body rolls looked out of place for these dolls, but the small, nuanced movements were executed to perfection. Several dancers have gymnastic or calisthenics backgrounds and the choreography allows aspects of this to come through in the flexibility and floorwork.
The choreography of the village girls echoes the choreography of doll-like movements, drawing clever parallels, so that when their worlds merge, the result is a smooth blending of the two groups. Perhaps there was scope though for including another style of dancing.
The all-encompassing film footage and montages in neon red, black and white, produced by Cowboy Hat films dramatically depicts the doll factory, the Parisian setting and the escalating tension and passions igniting. The electrifying scene where Coppelia comes to life is an aesthetic and edified version of the famous Frankenstein scene “It’s Alive”. Franz momentarily enjoys the love triangle as it plays out. Who is pulling the strings? The footage of this menage a trois would have had better continuity had Coppelia been in her blue costume.
The story unfolds to a soundtrack with an appealing mix of frenetic strings, a galactic soundscape, old-time songs and versions of “Time after Time” and “Running up that Hill”.
A woman scorned, the dolls’ revenge, a dramatic face-off and a fiery conclusion leaves Franz in the fallout.
Despite a bit of backstage banging during set change and a final scene that could have been omitted, “Unhinged” is entertaining, exciting and genuinely suspenseful, even eliciting goosebumps. The fitness level, production values, commitment to and execution of the choreography once again hits an exceptional standard.
This mammoth effort from the creative team and the cast deserves to be seen by a wider audience than the inner-sanctum of family and friends. With a run of only two nights, there’s only one more chance to become “Unhinged”.
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