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Pennsylvania Ballet


by Lori Ibay

April 26, 2008 at 2:00pm -- Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Ballet presented the lighthearted comedy “Coppelia” this spring, and on Saturday afternoon Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater was filled with laughter, applause, and – children!  Over a century after its first presentation at the Thêatre Impérial de l’Opera in Paris in 1870, the ballet continues to enchant audiences of all ages, and thirty years after the company’s first presentation of “Coppelia” in 1978, the performance charmed the young ballet-goers as well as the young at heart.

At Saturday’s performance, corps de ballet member Abigail Mentzer danced the leading role of Swanilda opposite principal dancer Alexander Iziliaev as Franz, with Jonathan Stiles as Dr. Coppelius, James Ihde as the Mayor, and Chelsea Gilday posing as the lifelike doll, Coppelia.  In one of her first leading roles, Mentzer firmly established Swanilda’s character in the first act – girlish, yet strong willed – in contrast to Iziliaev’s swaggering and playful Franz.

For the most part, Mentzer danced gracefully and confidently, with seemingly effortless sequences en pointe and steady, smooth pirouettes.  However, at times her inexperience was evident – in Act I, a segment that began with an impressive series of lightning-quick beats lost its crispness, and her footwork muddied as it tried to keep up with the rapid tempo.  In an Act III pas de deux with Iziliaev, Mentzer took increasingly longer pauses to steady herself on Iziliaev’s arm, with shorter and shorter moments released in a balanced arabesque.  However, she recovered well from an early falter in a series of pirouettes, recovering her center and firing off several more revolutions.

Mentzer was most impressive in Act II, disguised as Coppelia.  Her expressionless, doll-like countenance and rigid, exact movements were remarkably and appropriately uncanny.  As she continues to dance in featured roles, it will be a pleasure to watch her develop her talents.

Iziliaev performed solidly, drawing laughter even from the youngest audience members as the boyish Franz, whose attention was initially divided between flirty corps member Lindsay Purrington, Swanilda, and Coppelia.  He likewise drew applause with his sinewy leaps and whirling pirouettes a la seconde.

The corps was lively and spirited in their folk dancing, although the men’s double tours would have been all the more impressive if they were in synchrony.  In Act III, Rebecca Azenburg was a graceful and flowing Dawn; Rachel Maher danced a serene, deliberate Prayer; and Barette Vance was a sprightly and energetic Spinner.

Pennsylvania Ballet will end its 2007-2008 season in June with another family-friendly program, including “Carnival of the Animals,” featuring celebrity guest John Lithgow; “Jupiter Symphony,” a world premiere by Peter Quanz; and a world premiere by company member Matthew Neenan.

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