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New York City Ballet - Coppélia
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Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Andrea Quinn

Conductor, Maurice Kaplow

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center

Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
February 25, 2003

Coppélia (1974): Music by Léo Delibes, Book by Charles Nuitter, after E.T.A. Hoffman's Der Sandmann (1815), Choreography by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova after Marius Petipa (Petersburg, 1884), Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Some Costumes Designed by Karinska, Costumes Executed by Karinska and Barbara Matera, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Yvonne Borree, Benjamin Millepied, Robert La Fosse, and the Company, including Amanda Edge, Pascale van Kipnis, Abi Stafford, Dana Hanson, and Saskia Beskow (Danskin Spokesperson). Delibes was known to illustrate action with inspiration and creativity in his ballet music.


Ballet: Coppélia
Choreographer: George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova after Marius Petipa
Dancers: Yvonne Borree and Robert La Fosse
Photo by Paul Kolnik

This was an unusual staging, with a very long second act and an entirely different third act, about which I was, until now, unfamiliar, because I had never before seen Balanchine's version with this additional Act III. Coppélia is a romantic tale of a lad, Frantz, from Galicia (Austro-Hungary), who already has a lovely young lass, Swanilda, but becomes mesmerized by Coppélia, who sits on her balcony on a chair, gazing at an open book, and Frantz does not know that Dr. Coppélius, the eccentric and lonely toy maker, has built Coppélia as one of his life-size dolls, as someone he can wind up and love. This production was stylistically based on Petipa's 1884 production, which was 15 years after the premiere. Balanchine used choreography that he remembered from his days at the Maryinsky Company in St. Petersburg, Russia. For the last act, Balanchine has introduced Valkyries, as symbols of war, just as Napoleon III declared war against Prussia a few months after this ballet's original debut. This ballet, in fact, marked the passing of ballet supremacy from France to Russia. (Partial Assistance of NYCB Notes).

The plot of this classic ballet was danced tonight in three Acts. Act I, with the scenery of a village square in Galicia, during a festival for a new carillon for the bell tower, enables Dr. Coppélius to introduce his new doll, Coppélia. The rough-housing, village lads playfully attack Dr. Coppélius, who drops the key to his shop, and it is found by Swanilda, who enters the shop with her friends to see who Coppélia really is. Meanwhile, Frantz climbs a ladder to visit the same Coppélia, his new object of desire.

In Act II, which takes place inside the eccentric toy shop, Swanilda and her friends are discovered by Dr. Coppélius, after they all learn that Coppélia is actually a life size doll, and after they wind up "automated" dolls, an astrologer, a juggler, an acrobat, and a "Chinaman". Dr. Coppélius drugs Frantz with a sleeping potion, after he enters, in order to animate the doll with the energy of the sleeping lad. But, Swanilda has hidden in Coppélia' s clothing and fools Dr. Coppélius into thinking that the doll has become alive. She dances with Scottish decorations and then crushes Dr. Coppélius' hopes with his discovery that the doll is actually ruined. Frantz, in his strongest attempt to win back the beloved Swanilda, proposes marriage, and she accepts.

Act III is the wedding scene, with Swanilda in heavenly white, and the forlorn Dr. Coppélius a tad heavier, with new, gold coins in his pocket for his troubles. Frantz and Coppélia dance through the Village Square, during the Festival of the Bells. The bells are dedicated, followed by demonstrations of the occasions upon which the bells may yet be rung. Thus, there are special dances, by Dawn, Prayer, Spinner, Four Jesterettes, and finally Discord and War (hence the Valkyries), with swords and helmets. Finally the happy couple performs the wedding pas de deux, and the entire village erupts in a communal, festive celebration. (Partial assistance of NYCB Notes).

It was wonderful to see Robert La Fosse again, retired Principal and now choreographer, in the role of Dr. Coppélius. He embodied this role with exactness to the hunched stance of an elderly man, with stiff movements and strange, but tender, longings for his desired doll. Yvonne Borree was essentially a one-woman show, dancing in every act with perfection and grace. In the first act, she conveyed, with coyness and tentative seduction, that Frantz would not be her lover without the requisite wedding ring. This is an old fashioned tale, refreshing and family-oriented. She generated exhilarating kicks with drama and charisma, as always. In fact, I am more and more amazed at the resilience and energy of Ms. Borree, who is able to dance a night on end, then re-appear the following night in a similar role, Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Benjamin Millepied's dancing was technically superb, but he was not as inspiring as Ms. Borree in the dramatizations. Mr. Millepied has been dancing often, due to the large number of injuries of male Principals in the Company, of late, e.g., Damian Woetzel, Robert Tewsley, and Nicolaj Hübbe. He carries himself with dignity and poise, is attentive and flexible in his partnering, and his long limbs are perfect for this bravura role with so few stars and a story in three acts, all of which require the presence of the leads.

In the Act II, it should be noted that the female Corps dancers were adorable, as they wove on tiptoe through Dr. Coppélius' shop. Adrian Danchig-Waring, Christian Tworzyanski, Austin Laurent, and Allen Peiffer, as the life-sized, automated dolls, were totally in character, as they juggled and spun and tipped over, once wound up by the hesitant intruders. Mr. Millepied lacked some affect, as he pretended to be put asleep and then wake to the reality that it was Swanilda, not Coppélia, who deserved his heart. Mr. La Fosse was dramatically strong and kept me in momentary suspense as to how he might react to these intruders, although this is ballet, not reality TV. However, there was some suspense, when Ms. Borree's Scottish scarf would not remain tied during the reel, and the rose in her hair, sported for a Spanish fandango, would not be removed. Yet, she was unfazed, always affectionate and engaging, and never lost her momentum.

In Act III, Adam Hendrickson, a rising star in the Corps, the male Valkyrie to Aesha Ash's female Valkyrie, was a medieval Superman, with wild athleticism, as his muscularity and dynamic leaps and spins are always remarkable. I love watching Mr. Hendrickson, who gets better and better, even though the Company must be exhausted, after a 47- piece Repertory Season. Ms. Ash held her own, and she has a quiet reserve that was perfectly cast for this sensational role, to lead the Corps of Valkyries, replete with helmets and swords. In fact, had there been a song, I would have thought I had happened onto a Wagnerian opera.

Prior to the Valkyries, in Discord and War, an ironic metaphor for a wedding scene, we had the Dedication of the Bells. Amanda Edge, a sprite pixie of a dancer, with jet-black hair, and always a special presence, was excellent as the dancer who dedicates the bells. Abi Stafford, as Dawn, who is more stylized and aerobic, was effective in this role. Dana Hanson as Prayer and Pascale van Kipnis as Spinner were evocative and buoyant. Jessica Flynn, Sterling Hyltin, Ashley Laracey, and Georgina Pazcoguin, as Jesterettes, with tiny bells on their yellow, Harem pants, were creative and enchanting.

A very special Bouquet of Kudos is warmly offered to the School for American Ballet. In Act III, dozens of pink cherubs, some as tiny as could be, were in most perfect formation and poised character in the Waltz of the Golden Hours. I was completely in awe of this Corps of tiny dancers, some larger than others, but all so focused, so rehearsed, and so visibly thrilled to be onstage with the soloists from NYC Ballet. They formed circles and configurations around the lead dancers to give the stage the image of Marzipans and Bonbons.

Ms. Borree's and Mr. Millepied's wedding dance proceeded with bells and veils and onstage romance, as only exists at the ballet. Kudos to both for such challenging roles at the end of a very long Winter Season. Kudos, as well, to Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Karinska, and Barbara Matera for sets and costumes par excellence. Maurice Kaplow conducted his inspired orchestra magnificently, as usual.

 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net