What A Doll!
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Coppélia”
Saturday, 12 June 2010 Evening Performance
by Dean Speer
Seth Orza’s earlier slight back strain effected 17 role changes for the evening’s performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s charming new production of the comedic “Coppélia.” Instead of Orza as Franz and Carla Körbes as Swanilda with the pivotal role of Dr. Coppelius with Olivier Wevers as originally promised, we were treated instead to an alternate cast of Rachel Foster, Benjamin Griffiths, and Jordan Pacitti.
All three were a ballet-lover’s delight – Foster’s diamond brilliant technique and insouciance; Griffiths' clean, clear virtuostic dancing; and Pacitti’s amusing buffoonery as the good doctor.
Certainly central to the industry of this “new” ballet is the staging and choreography by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, first set by them for New York City Ballet in 1974, based on original sources. Charming as the steps are – and they are – working in tandem are the charm and delight of the scenic elements and costume designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno and executed by the might PNB costume and production shops – which are the best in the world according to Guidi di Bagno. I agree.
Act I depicted Swanilda’s house as an oversized teapot and that of the good doctor as a coffee pot. Act II took us inside the mysterious chambers of Coppelius’ workshop and Act III to the town square where larger-than-life bells rang and the mayor blessed to-be-married couples with purses of gold (don’t we all wish we lived in this town?!). Guidi di Bagno told us that she was born and raised in Rome and currently lives in the central part of that city. Outside of one of her windows is wisteria and this lovely lilac like plant covers the top of the stage in the first and last acts and many scenic and costume components refer to or use this subdued lavender shade.
Not subdued in their dancing, the lead couple of Foster and Griffiths were by turns, serious and funny. A bit of pathos too as the town boys roughed up Coppelius for “fun,” thus allowing one of Swanilda’s friends to find the key to his house and suggest to Swanilda and her other girlfriends that they engage in a little breaking and entering of their own, whereupon they discover the “girl” that Franz thinks he’s in love with is merely a doll.
The strongest bits choreographically are Act I’s character dances and the ‘Waltz of the Golden Hours’ with Liora Reshef and a battalion of 24 girls from the PNB School, all dressed out in handmade pink tutus and tiaras, who come charging in with vigorous emboîtés and who frame not one but three other dances – ‘Dawn’ (Sarah Ricard Orza), ‘Prayer’ (Lindsi Dec), and Chalnessa Eames’ very strong and lively ‘Spinner.’ The “ahs” that dropped through the audience were spontaneous and well deserved. While there were no choreographic surprises anywhere, there was solid work and many welcome and necessary pieces of old-fashioned pantomime and allegro steps.
I enjoyed Balanchine’s interpolated scene of ‘Discord and War’, since as the concluding (wedding) pas de deux symbolizes Pax (Peace), it makes sense to have this precede it. Carrie Imler and Karel Cruz were the two leads for this military pageantry.
Then we had the final pas de deux – développés, promenades, and lush lines by the couple together and for the coda, an en dedans pirouette sequence in attitude devant for Swanilda that ended in a suspended arabesque. Griffiths' beats and turns were impeccable.
Conductor Allan Dameron led the PNB Orchestra nicely, not rushing tempi and allowing the score to breathe with the dancers and yet still have bounce and beauty with this melodic Délibes creation.
Certainly, “Coppélia” has been one of the big hits of PNB’s 2009-10 season and is one that demands repeat viewing in the not-too-distant future.