Posted on 10 July 2020 By Rose Mulready

"Just as Giselle is ballet's great tragedy," declared George Balanchine, "Coppélia is its great comedy." Feel like a little bit of levity? This sweet-centred adventure is here to help. We have the boisterous, strong-willed lovers Swanilda and Franz; we have a mysterious, beautiful stranger appearing on a balcony; we have a bold masquerade, dark magic, life-sized dolls and a full-scale wedding. It's the harvest festival - and you're invited! Come and meet the villagers ... but before you do, swing through this guide to get some background and "watch out for" pointers. 

This production is brought to you free by our Principal Partner Telstra. 


The Australian Ballet's founding artistic director, Peggy van Praagh, was British and had danced with the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet). Swanilda was one of her trademark roles, and when she programmed her new Australian company's first year of performances in 1962, she included her version of Coppélia. In 1978, when she returned after a hiatus to take the reins of The Australian Ballet once again, she created a new version in collaboration with the director George Ogilvie (who directed Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) and the designer Kristian Fredrikson. The production, van Praagh's last for the company before her death, was a wild success. “In terms of working with a choreographer and a designer,” says Ogilvie, “it was the best experience of my life.”

Before ever stepping into the studio, the trio worked daily on the emotional and dramatic logic of the ballet, its interweaving of pagan and Christian symbols, its history (the ballet first premiered in 1870) and the dark E.T.A Hoffman stories that inspired it. The result is a closely woven, textured, resonant whole. It might look on the surface like a frothy little bagatelle, but the thought that has gone into it makes it a rich and satisfying experience, with many moments of wonder and magic. 

Watch out for: The moment when Swanilda, pretending to be Coppélia, imitates a doll coming to life - at first stiff and robotic, then increasingly fluid and graceful.    

Fun fact: In 1942, Peggy van Praagh danced Swanilda for the first time. The ballerina who was meant to perform it had narrowly escaped death in one of the bombing raids on London, and was in severe shock. Van Praagh learnt the role in four days; the company was on tour, so she couldn't rehearse with them, and had only one pas de deux rehearsal with her partner, Robert Helpmann, before her debut. It was to become one of her favourite roles.

Deep dive: David McAllister, George Ogilvie and principal artists Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo talk about what Coppélia means to them and the company. 

Bonus Coppélia: As well as featuring our 2016 production, we've dipped back into our archives to bring you our 1990 production, starring the fabulous partnership of Lisa Pavane and Greg Horsman. A rare chance to compare the technique and artistry of dancers across generations. 

Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo. Photography Daniel Boud


Principal artists and real-life couple Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo dance Franz and Swanilda, with Principal Artist Andrew Killian in the character role of Dr Coppelius. Guo is an explosive talent who makes audiences literally gasp with his gravity-defying leaps and endless spins. His wife Kondo matches him in pyrotechnic ability and together they seem to egg each other on to yet more spectacular heights. Their powerfully grounded, joyfully light technique is perfect for the exuberant lovers of Coppélia. 

Watch out for: The coda (finale) of the Wedding Pas de deux, in which Swanilda and Franz dance alternately, outdoing each other in a series of dazzling turns and leaps. 

Fun fact: Guo won the Chinese version of So You Think You Can Dance

Deep dive: Guo tells us why Coppélia is special to him, and Kondo tells us how she transforms on stage while dancing among the butterflies at Melbourne Zoo. 

Phtography Daniel Boud / Justin Ridler


The Frenchman Léo Delibes studied under Adolphe Adam, who wrote Giselle. His first ballet was La Source, a collaboration with the more experienced composer Ludwig Minkus (it is thought that Delibes contributed the lion's share of the music). His first full-length ballet was Coppélia, and what a joy it is. Both the light, frolicsome side of the ballet, with its Slavic village scenes and romantic antics and the dark, sinister side of evil magic and spooky toyshops are fully rendered in the melodies and orchestrations of the score. There are light, delicate waltzes, rousing mazurkas and a soulful viola melody as the happy couple celebrate their marriage and the harmonious resolution of their stormy courtship. 

Listen out for: When the dolls spring to life in Dr Coppelius' workshop, you'll hear the sprightly, tinkling Musique des Automates, which sounds as if it's being played by clockwork dolls. 

Fun fact: When Tchaivosky heard Delibes' music for the ballet Sylvia, he was enraptured, so much so that he declared that if he had heard Sylvia before composing Swan Lake, he never would have written it. 

Deep dive: Dr Mark Carroll takes us bar by bar through the score for Coppélia

Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo. Photography Daniel Boud


When Kristian Fredrikson died, our Artistic Director David McAllister said, "The world will be a little less beautiful now that we don’t have Kristian to redesign it for us." He truly was the master, and saw his task as a designer as so much more than dressing and framing dancers. His intellect was wide-ranging, his research meticulous. And those costumes! Coppélia's ice-blue froth of a dress effortlessly outshines Swanilda's perky village-girl ruffles; Dawn erupts onto stage in a feathery hat in all the colours of sunstruck clouds. The Hours move mysteriously in their star-strewn tutus. And Dr Coppelius' toyshop is a masterpiece of spooky glamour, with its richly dressed, life-sized toys lurking in the shadows. 

Watch out for: The exquisite layers of lace on the tutu for Prayer, one of the variations in the third act. 

Fun fact: Dr Coppelius' alchemist's cloak, covered with eyes, recalls the character of Dr Coppelius in the E.T.A Hoffman story 'The Sandman' - a terrifying sadist who wanders the streets selling spectacles and calling, "Eyes, pretty eyes". 

Deep dive: A close-up look at what may just be Fredrikson's most beautiful tutus, the night-sky numbers for the Dance of the Hours. 

Sarah Thompson. Photography Kate Longley