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American Ballet Theatre


by Colleen Boresta

June 18, 2011 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

Coppelia is a great introduction to the ballet for those both young and young-at-heart. American Ballet Theatre is currently using this concept as part of their advertising campaign in The New York Times. There were many children at the June 18th matinee of Coppelia, all of them (thankfully) very well behaved.

Coppelia is the story of Swanilda and her boyfriend, Franz. Franz falls in love with a mechanical doll built by the eccentric Dr. Coppelius. Franz breaks into Dr. Coppelius’ house to see Coppelia. He is discovered by the inventor, who offers Franz a drink. Unknown to Franz (not the brightest of lads), Dr. Coppelius has put a potion in his drink which knocks Franz out. While Franz is asleep, Dr. Coppelius tries to steal Franz’s life force and use it to make the doll Coppelia come to life. Dr. Coppelius does not know that who he thinks is Coppelia is really Swanilda dressed up in Coppelia’s clothes. (She has also broken into Dr. Coppelius’ house. Neither Franz nor Swanilda is exactly a model teenager.) By the end of Act II Franz wakes up, and Swanilda shows him that Coppelia is only a doll. In Act III Franz and Swanilda are married and the whole village joins in the celebration.

American Ballet Theatre’s production of Coppelia is staged by Frederic Frankln after versions of this ballet staged by Nicholas Sergeyev in England. Sergeyev, in turn, learned Coppelia from the great Marius Petipa at the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Franklin’s staging of Coppelia (first danced by ABT in 1997) shares many similarities with the production choreographed by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova for New York City Ballet in 1974. After all, Franklin and Danilova had a famous partnership for many years with the Ballet Russe.,

I, however, find the George Balanchine/Alexandra Danilova Coppelia to be superior to the Frederic Franklin version. There is much more dancing in NYCB’s Coppelia, especially in Act I. Franklin’s Act I is almost entirely mime. Much of this mime is not presented clearly. The pace of ABT’s Coppelia is rather slow and tedious. NYCB’s version of the same ballet moves along at a faster pace. There are also some costume problems in ABT’s Coppelia, particularly those worn by Swanilda’s friends. I imagine the intention is for the mop caps and long dresses to show old-fashioned charm. Instead, they just look dowdy.

One of the biggest differences between American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet’s Coppelias is the character of Dr. Coppelius. In ABT’s production Dr. Coppelius is a buffoon. Yes, he’s upset at the end of Act II when he discovers that Coppelia is not really alive, but only Swanilda playing a trick on him. In Act III, however, after receiving a bag of gold from the Burgomaster, Dr. Coppelius forgives Swanilda and Franz and watches the wedding festivities from his balcony. A fully clothed Coppelia is sitting beside him.

In the third act of NYCB’s Coppelia, Dr. Coppelius enters holding the naked limp Coppelia doll like a dead child. He does take the money from the Burgomaster, but he’s not happy about it. And NYCB’s Dr. Coppelius certainly does not forgive Swanilda or Franz, or watch the wedding celebration.

At the June 18th matinee of Coppelia, Swanilda is danced by soloist Maria Riccetto. Riccetto is a sweet Swanilda, with good comic timing. Her performance, however, lacks sparkle. Unfortunately as well, her dancing is not up to the level needed for the role. While executing her fouettes during the coda of the Act III pas de deux, Riccetto fell off pointe. There is nothing special about her dancing, nothing that makes Riccetto’s Swanilda stand out.

Soloist Jared Matthews is a rather bland Franz. His dancing is okay, but there is nothing exciting about it. Alex Agoudine is a very funny Dr. Coppelius, but his humor is a bit too much on the slapstick side for my taste. Isabella Boylston shines in the Dawn variation in Act III. She has lovely extensions and a glorious light leap. As Prayer in the same act, Zhong-Jing Fong’s solo is somewhat wobbly. The biggest applause (and deservedly so) is reserved for the 12 little girls who perform the Dance of the Hours. These students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ballet school all have bright futures ahead of them.

The ABT orchestra plays the delicious Delibes score flawlessly. Coppelia is a wonderful ballet, especially for children. I only hope American Ballet Theatre finds a lively version of this classic for their repertoire.

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