Scottish Ballet’s Coppélia ★★★★★

Scottish Ballet offers an eye-popping, contemporary take on Coppélia that explores the implications of Artificial Intelligence.

It is quite the week for radical reimagining of classic shows. Following swiftly on from Daniel Fish’s darker Oklahoma! comes a thrillingly fresh take on a hoary 1870 comic ballet.

If you had told us that Coppélia would be one of the dance highlights of 2023, The Recs would have given you a quizzical look. But that would have been before we had witnessed Scottish Ballet’s brilliant futuristic take.

Traditionally it’s a tale, set in a Polish village, of Dr. Coppélius creating a life-sized doll that is so convincingly human that Swanhilda‘s fiancé Franz is beguiled by her. Director-choreographers Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright turbocharge their reinterpretation bang up to date with a cinematic cautionary tale that’s part thriller, part satire set in Silicon Valley.


All images by Andy Ross

Charismatic Scottish Ballet principal Bruno Micchiardi plays the egotistical, narcissistic CEO of NuLife, a cutting-edge AI technology company. His black polo neck, the model of a space rocket in his study and his personal videographer (Rimbaud Patron) filming his every move place this Dr Coppélius firmly in Steve Jobs / Elon Musk territory.

His new “Coppélia” technology is an attempt to develop Artificial Technology which can move off the screen and into the real-world in corporeal form.

The always-beguiling Constance Devernay plays Swanhilda as inquisitive investigative reporter determined to discover NuLife’s dark secrets. Breaking into his laboratory at night, she discovers trays of robot hands and heads. In a scene that is both beautiful and eerie, the AI robots dance holding the artificial arms creating the surreal impression of a creature evolving.

Human replicas are a familiar trope in science-fiction films throughout the ages, including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Michael Crichton’s Westworld, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina to name a few. Annemarie Woods’ stunning Coppélia costumes perhaps fuse the deco flavour of Metropolis with the Japanese fashion-punk of a Blade Runner replicant.

The musical backing is similarly cinematic with an intriguing fusion between orchestral and electronic. The original ballet score by Delibes is subsumed into Mikael Karlsson and Michael P Atkinson‘s specially-commissioned score. Sometimes electronic, sparse and tense and other times rich and energetically percussive, it feels like a slick sci-fi / spy soundtrack.

Incorporating live feed footage and pre-recorded film, the staging is a sensory feast. A breathtaking climax comes after Swanhilda enters the machine and becomes Coppélia to seduce the Doctor. An infinity of robot clones keep multiplying in the screen projections as well the ensemble on stage.

The underlying question that runs through Coppélia is what it means to be human in a world where artificial intelligence thrives. The question is what’s real and what can be trusted that runs through our present-day worlds of politics, media, social media, dating apps finds a timely and entertaining exploration in this work.

Eye catching, progressive and deliciously inventive, Scottish Ballet’s exploration of artificial intelligence with Coppélia is the real deal!


We’ve seen the future – and it’s standing-ovation shaped ★★★★★