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Darcey Bussell talks dance, film and social media at Cambridge Film Festival for UK premiere of Coppelia



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Coppelia danced its way to the 40th Cambridge Film Festival (CFF) last week for its UK premiere.

Dame Darcey Bussell at the University Arms Hotel for the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dame Darcey Bussell at the University Arms Hotel for the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Keith Heppell

The film combines live action with animation and features ballerina and television personality Dame Darcey Bussell. It is a modern cinematic retelling of the 150-year-old ballet and, alongside Darcey – one of the most famous dancers of her generation, and a former judge on Strictly Come Dancing – are other world-class dancers including Michaela DePrince, Daniel Camargo and Vito Mazzeo.

The screening, which the former principal of The Royal Ballet herself attended, was held on Wednesday, November 24 at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse. Darcey sat down to discuss the project with the Cambridge Independent – a media partner for Cambridge Film Festival – in the comfortable surroundings of the library at the University Arms Hotel.

From left, Matthew Webb, of Cambridge Film Trust, Coppelia director Jeff Tudor, producer Adrienne Liron, director Steven de Beul, Darcey Bussell and director Ben Tesseur. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
From left, Matthew Webb, of Cambridge Film Trust, Coppelia director Jeff Tudor, producer Adrienne Liron, director Steven de Beul, Darcey Bussell and director Ben Tesseur. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet

Also present were directors Jeff Tudor, Steven De Beul and Ben Tesseur, as well as producer Adrienne Liron. “I knew one of the producers,” begins Darcey, explaining how she became involved in the film, “and the idea came about and it was for Dutch National [Ballet].

“I know quite a lot of the dancers in Dutch National and they just said, ‘We’d love to give you a part in it’ and I was like, ‘Well, obviously not a dancing part because I’ve been retired for a while, but a character role would be lovely – I’d love to be part of it’.”

Darcey, who also now works as a coach for The Royal Ballet, adds: “I love anything that’s challenging, different, and knowing that there was animation – and also knowing that it was a twist on the story – I was really excited to be involved.”

The star is not new to the big screen. “I’ve done films before and documentaries on dance and things like that,” she says. “I’ve been in cameo roles in bigger films; I was on a film called True Blue, which was actually about the Cambridge and Oxford boat race...

“So small roles and things like that but never part of a ballet film, as such, and I really liked the idea. The twist of the story and how it very much relates to society now – and also how it connects to the younger individual. Dance is a brilliant tool to communicate different subjects, and it’s an international language. So even though there are no words in this film, I think that makes it even more fascinating.”

Elaborating on how the ballet has been changed to address modern-day concerns, Darcey says: “It’s very different. The original ballet Coppelia is based on Dr Coppelius, who’s an old man who’s a doll maker basically.

Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival. Picture: Jean-Luc Benazet

“It’s around one couple and their love and that love being broken up because of his instigations. It’s his daughter but his daughter isn’t real, so it’s quite interesting... And the concept now is that Dr Coppelius isn’t a doll maker, he’s a plastic surgeon.

“He’s trying to give people a new reality on themselves, but it’s all on the outside. It’s not from the inside. So that what you’re meant to be feeling and what’s important is from the inside and he’s just giving you the superficial on the outside – and I think it really relates to kids and social media and how they present themselves on that medium.

“It’s about understanding what’s important and what isn’t important, when we’re happy and when we’re not happy, and how to become happy.”

Darcey says she came in four times to film, travelling from London to Amsterdam and joining the dancers from the Dutch National Ballet, but notes that the whole project took a lot longer as the dancers were also performing in their normal repertoire of shows at the same time (pre-Covid). “I just came in and slotted in, basically,” she recalls, “because I was a small character role...”

Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival in the Arts Picturehouse. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dame Darcey Bussell at the Cambridge Film Festival in the Arts Picturehouse. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, Matthew Webb, executive director Cambridge Film Trust, Jeff Tudor, director; Adrienne Liron, producer, Steven de Beul, director, Darcey Bussell, and Ben Tesseur, director. Picture: CFF
From left, Matthew Webb, executive director Cambridge Film Trust, Jeff Tudor, director; Adrienne Liron, producer, Steven de Beul, director, Darcey Bussell, and Ben Tesseur, director. Picture: CFF

Darcey continues: “I really enjoyed the experience. We had to work in a very different way because we were on a blue screen, so to imagine the surroundings and actually what was physically going on – you’re constantly being told – and a lot of the dancers were wearing green and blue suits, so they were the animated figures but they’re there physically. That was all really strange...

“A lot of the time was spent on the editing afterwards – months and months – and when we finished filming they said it would take a good year after that to get the finished product, which is quite extraordinary.”

Coppelia is due for general release at cinemas from February 22 and is expected to air on BBC1 next Christmas. Cambridge Film Festival came to end last Thursday, but CFF At Home continues. Visit cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk.

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