Coppelia/Birmingham Royal Ballet

IT was as if she’d never been away… not for Nao Sakuma the professional exile of motherhood and the slow but inevitable descent into character roles or introducing eager ballet school adolescents to the secrets of dance.

Oh no, not a bit of it. All right, not her first stage outing since that happy event, but this dazzling display certainly – by any stretch of the imagination – could indeed be said to mark her comeback to the Hippodrome stage.

Yes, here we had the ample proof that Nao is still top of her game, giving all she’s got - and more - to the role of the bewitched and bemused Swanilda, the village maid who must compete with a doll-maker’s rather spooky creation.

And as if this wasn’t enough, because added to the rustic mix is her suitor, the flirtatious Franz, a yokel jack-the-lad who may have an eye for the ladies but nevertheless can never quite follow through with anything more dangerous than a gormless grin and a tidily fleeting pair of heels.

All the same, Joseph Caley turns in a commendably assured performance as our floppy-haired hero, brimming with confidence and not a little self-consciousness as he inevitably succumbs to the male ego and investigates the strange creation of the even wackier Dr Coppelius, played with glorious abandon by Michael O’Hare, a man who is rapidly following Marion Tate as being one of the greatest character actors ever to have trodden the boards with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

And just in case you’re having difficulty in taking my word for it, you should take a look at his peregrinations with La Sakuma, a dizzying blend of visual jokes, mime school moves and consummate technical expertise.

One of the most appealing features of this classic ballet is the complete ordinariness of the characters. We’re never at risk of being overwhelmed in the presence of a glittering prince surrounded by courtiers in some forest glade, neither are we going to have our senses saturated by the arrival of any glass coaches pulled by gilded reptiles.

No, the refreshing thing about Coppelia is that all the protagonists are everyday people – albeit the product of a rural fantasist’s pen – in the European tradition.

To be sure, the dusky gipsy temptress doesn’t waste much time in making her bejewelled presence known, but then this is a staple of the folk tradition and all the better for it.

And even if Daria Stanciulescu’s mysterious maid may captivate the impressionable Franz, you can be certain that he’ll return to ’er indoors once the dance is over and the dust in the village square has settled.

Throughout this delightful ballet, Leo Delibes’ immortal score flows through the piece like a wild and untamed river, sometimes thunderously strident as it cascades through ravines and shallows, at other times thoughtful and reflective as the quieter passages run through still deeps that eternally hide their secrets.

There is no doubt that under the steady guidance of conductor Koen Kessels and leader Robert Gibbs, the music readily acquires a majesty all of its own.

There should also be special mention about the contribution made by the late Peter Farmer, whose scenery and costumes designs combine to form a spectacular fantasy feast for the eyes and ears.

And completing this feel of other-worldliness is the subtle and evocative lighting… Peter Teigen’s talent for creating a sense of light and shade that give voice to the seasons has never shone so brightly or with such grandeur.

This version of Coppelia is blessed by having received the Midas touch of the great choreographer Peter Wright. From start to finish, it holds you in its embrace, a tour-de-force that stirs every imaginable emotion.

It’s truly a must-see event, running at the Birmingham Hippodrome until this Saturday (June 17) before moving on to Bristol on June 28. There’s no excuse for not seeing it!

John Phillpott