During the mid- 1990âs I served as Dance Editor for Showbusiness and wrote weekly dance reviews and reported on the dance scene in New York City
American Ballet Theatre
By Stanley Siegel
First performed in 1870, âCoppeliaâ remains one of the few great comic ballets. American Ballet Theatre brought home its 51st season with Enrique Martinezâs new staging of âCoppelia.â
Where many romantic choreographers comment on the struggles of young lovers with a poetâs tragic eye, Arthur Saint-Leon chooses humor and irony. Saint-Leon structures a series of ingenuous burlesque-style encounters to tell his story about the conflicts between reality and fantasy, sensuality and spirit, strength and submissiveness. In âCoppelia,â the hero, Franz, though in love with Swanilda, finds himself hopelessly infatuated with the mysterious Coppelia; her quiet beauty in contrast to the lively Swanildaâs. Coppelia, said to be the daughter of the misanthropic Dr. Coppelius, turns out to be a lifeless mechanical doll, and the foolhearty Franz, abandoning his fantasy, reunites with Swanilda for a happy ending.
Ironically, Carlotta Grisi, the ballerina, whose career was largely created by the role of Swanilda, mixed a similar version of reality and fantasy. Ballet lore holds that Grisi, though the mistress of choreographer Jules Perrot, openly formed a liaison with the younger, more exalted dancer, Lucien Petipa. Grisi may have been seeking to resolve, through this loverâs triangle, the same conflict upon which Saint-Leon built his ballet; the division between the flesh and the spirit. But, Saint-Leonâs ballet doesnât take life too seriously.
Because of its gracious music, its clever staging and fanciful pantomime, and the universality of its romantic theme, âCoppeliaâ triumphs over time. Delibeâs melodic score, piquant and richly varied, blends inseparably with the developing drama. When Saint-Leon introduced the mazurka to Delibesâ rousing music in the first act, setting the high spirited tone of the ballet, they broke new ground. âCoppeliaâ first established the tradition of incorporating ethnic dances into story ballets.
Cheryl Yaeger delivers a spirited performance as Swanilda. Portraying her as more fearless than mischievous, more flirtatious than vulnerable, Yaeger makes the role work beyond her sheer dancing ability. At first unconvincing, as the ballet progresses, Yaegerâs meticulous technique, refined articulation and vivid mime, persuade us of the transformation of Coppelia from mechanical doll into capricious girl. When the saucy Swanilda awakens Franz to reality, Yaegerâs character yields to young womanhood. By the time she dances the strenuous and complicated wedding Payday Loans pas de deux in the third act, character and dancer, have reached full maturity.
With physical vigor and impeccable technique, Julio Boca leaps into an exuberant portrayal of the love torn Franz. Balancing boyish charm with adolescent sexuality, Boca instantly gains our sympathy for Franzâs dilemma. A natural dancer, decisive and confident, Boaâs dancing reaches close to the danger point with his highly charged performance. His leaps pierce the air; his perfect pirouettes and double tours nearly shock us. As partners, Boca and Yaeger demonstrate a friendly rapport. Each concentrates on the technical demands and style of their dancing, pushing the other even further. Yet, when dancing together, the partnership lacks the luster, passion and harmony that would convince anyone of the young loversâ ardor.
Though Saint-Leon conceived Dr. Coppelius as more mad scientist than mad hatter, Terry Orr fashions him the latter. Acting merely zany, rather than misanthropic, Orr fails to bring the intended depth of emotion to his character. When Swanilda turns the mirror on Coppelius, taunting him into facing reality; her youthful beauty exaggerates his homliness, her shrewdness, his foolishness, Orrâs slapstick interpretation cuts short the exquisite moment of Coppeliusâ descent from illusion and our compassion for him. At another point, Coppelius mixes a sorcererâs cocktail, in an attempt to transfer the heart, spirit and vision of the sleeping Franz to the lifeless doll Coppelia. Orrâs delirious characterization muddles the action, so we can barely read it.
Martinezâs choreography sticks close to his original staging of the ballet in 1968. The simple, clean steps of the Mazurka and Czardas contribute to the danceâs feeling of lightness and gaiety. Martinez crafts challenging solos, Spanish and Scottish for Yaeger through which she displays her virtuosity. Christine Dunham and Julie Kent dance outstanding solos in the third act. All the group dances flow smoothly into the rest of the dramatic action, though their patterns tended to be over-simplified.
Tony Straigesâ pastel colored set fails to close the massive Metropolitan Opera House stage and fashion the intimate charm of the old village square in which the opening gaiety takes place. Patricia Ziprodtâs costumes, in similarly diluted colors, disappear in the scenery and take the dancers with them. But in Act II, Straigesâ wonderful mix of fairy tale and surreal images, with oversized clocks, dolls and musical toys, creates an Alice In Wonderland workshop that serves as the perfect setting for the fantastic transformations that come.