BALLET REVIEW Girl plays doll plays girl

Boston Ballet Company performs Coppélia with a festive spring spirit


Boston Ballet Company

April 9, 2010

Boston Opera House

If you would not exactly describe yourself as a balletomane, but rather the can-handle-seeing-the-Nutcracker-once-every-holiday-season type, then consider challenging yourself with Saint-León’s Coppélia, choreographed by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, performed by the Boston Ballet Company from now until April 18. It includes all the entertaining elements of The Nutcracker — a bit of fairy-tale magic, toys coming to life, the impressive array of costumes — plus an extra act!

Coppélia is the name of a beautiful life-sized doll, created by the grumpy, old Doctor Coppélius who has the uncanny hobby of creating life-sized toys. In Act I, Franz, a town boy, discovers Coppélia and, although already engaged, mistakenly believes she’s real, and promptly falls in love with the doll. Doctor Coppélius is not open to sharing his prized invention with anyone, much less the young trouble-maker Franz.

Similarly, Franz’s fiancé Swanhilda is displeased and jealous when she finds Franz blowing kisses to Coppélia. However, once Swanhilda discovers Coppélia is a doll, her anger is dissipated, and she comes up with the creative plan to reclaim Franz’s love by pretending to be the doll. Swanhilda’s scheme unfolds in Act II in Doctor Coppélius’s haunted house-like home filled with life-sized toys and magic potions. Both Franz and Swanhilda sneak into the house — unaware of the other’s presence — either magic or chaos happens.

Doctor Coppélius is deceived by Swanhilda’s fantastic impersonation of a doll and believes that his doll has truly come to life. Swanhilda’s playful plot to get back Franz’s attention is a success. During Act III, the final act, Franz and Swanhilda get married; their wedding celebration takes place together with the town’s Festival of Bells, where village couples arrive in holiday attire and celebrate together.

The Boston Opera House was a packed house on Friday evening — possibly filled with the proud families of the many young girls that made their debut in Act III. However, the show started off a bit rusty. The conspicuous loose footwork in Act I was distracting; nevertheless, as the performance progressed, the ballet shifted from primarily group performances to individual performances, where the lack in unity was no longer an issue. Swanhilda, with her playful and impressive impersonation of a doll in Act II, resulted in pleased giggles and later, enthusiastic applause from both young children and adults in the audience.

Coppélia was created during a period when there was a fascination with the intersection between the mechanistic sphere and the living sphere. This is evident in the distinct machine-like choreography in Act II — an interesting representation of humans replicating dolls with humans. However, it should be noted that only the influence of St. Léon’s original choreography remains in the ballet performed today.

Coppélia is a loved classic that whisks the audience off to various scenes — an Austrian hillside to the laboratory of Doctor Coppélius and finally ending the evening at the scene of a party. Constantly infused with festive dancing, the energy level is high. Coppélia is a cheery, light-hearted show, perfect to parallel the blissful spring weather. I have to admit that the unexpected highlight of my evening was a comment from my date. In response to our discussion of whether the influence of Balanchine’s choreography diminished the authenticity of the original ballet, he said, “the scene in the first act, the one where the girls in the poufy red skirts kicked their legs up… pretty sexual...I know how men think, and men made this ballet.” His comment caused me to burst out laughing, reminding me that each performance creates a unique and memorable experience. It’s not just the show but also the company you bring.

As for what’s ahead: The Boston Ballet season will continue with two more performances this spring, The Ultimate Balanchine and Black and White, both a contrast from the style of the all time classic Coppélia. More information regarding the show is available on the Boston Ballet website,