Ballet Arizona's Coppelia (Hartley/Breusenko)
Posted 19 February 2007 - 03:48 PM
This is a very pretty, traditional, staging of Coppelia. Scenery and Costumes are borrowed from the Richmond Ballet. Choreography is by Ib Anderson. On the afternoon we saw it, Paula Hartley was Swanhilda and Vitaly Breusenko, Franz.
Ms. Hartley's talents as an actress-dancer are well displayed in this comic role. As Swanhilda, she is often a clever, clever girl, wickedly funny in mocking Franz and teasing Coppelius. She is completely credible as the fun-loving leader of her peers, her curiousity taking her and them into the workshop. Her Swanhilda is a convincing sweet girl, as well. In a series of supported turns, with each of several of the boys stepping in sequentially, it was easy to see her as a girl all the boys would like. I also had a sense, as I have before with her, that she was managing these these turns by herself. While that, of course, was technically impossible, there is something about the security of her placement combined with the evident strength of her personality which makes this appear to be the case. (No doubt this was also attributable to some good partnering by the men.) In contrast, when she shook the wheat, she was darling, hopeful and vulnerable, bursting into tears and running offstage just like a real teenager. She managed to integrate these disparate aspects into a convincing portrayal of a real girl.
Vitaly Brushenko played Franz with a nice sense of mischief, as well, making him a good match for this Swanhilda. His Ukranian/Russian training is evident throughout, both dramatically and technically. He met the technical demands nicely, and the audience very much enjoyed his flashy performance, particularly the batterie. He was very funny sneaking around to flirt with Coppelia and getting into the workshop. The role of Franz doesn't really allow for much more to be done with it. Mr. Brushenko did a nice job of making Franz likable, and not too much of a dolt. Ms. Hartley's Swanhilda helps some with this, as she manages to tease good-naturedly, without making it too much at his expense. In this production, at least, there's a real argument to be made that it is the first feminist ballet. There's something particularly symbolic near the end of Act III, where Franz begins a classic circular grand jete sequence: he completes a couple big, manly leaps -- the kind that are evidently a tour de force and that we all expect to see -- and then Swanhilda/Ms. Hartley does an almost lazy windup and flies into the air after him! Her jumps are as high as his, effortless, with an almost imperceptable preparation, and each achieving a full-out 180 degree split. Ah, Brava, Paula!
It would be interesting to have Ib Anderson comment on aspects of Bournonville in his choreography. These are quite demanding technical roles. Ms. Hartley, nonetheless, interjects personality into every move, including tricky attitude derierre turns and speedy passes. Also, as I have said before about her and no doubt will again, she not only knows how to make dance look easy -- she knows how to make it thrilling.
A modern, Ballanchine-like aspect is that high demands are placed upon all dancers. Happily, in this increasingly strong and deep company, they are up to it. The Corps looked very good. There were a couple spots in which the choreography was just too fast for the dancers to accomplish, a flaw we have noted in the past. While it is wonderful that the dancers are being encouraged with difficult steps and timing, these too-rapid bits are a distraction. It would be awfully nice if Mr. Anderson would provide the dancers with modifications. The dancers continue to improve in important aspects of ensemble performance, including uniformity of execution, timing, and tidy lines. Kudos to Maria Simonetti, the rehearsal mistress.
I did notice an unfortunate tendancy for some members of the corps to display insufficient conviction in their charecters. Perhaps they see no need to enter a charecter and are merely being "dancers"? This was true among the men, more than the women. A notable exception among the men was Michael Cook, who was as appropriately expressive as if he were the lead. I found myself looking at him, over and over. Yes, okay, he's really good looking, too, which doesn't hurt -- but it was the fact that he was fully animated that pulled me to him.
Similarly, among the women, I note that our hometown girl Chelsea Saari was nicely animated in the crowd scenes, and I began to feel that this might be the beginning for her of real stage presence. Many others were performing well, and I do not mean to imply otherwise in singling out a couple for their excellence. However, if everyone can be fully engaged through the entire performance, it will move this company to the next level. It will be more fun for the dancers, too!
The Act III followed the convention of using student dancers. This was nicely done, though I think the audience might have enjoyed seeing more dancing from them. The audience understands that it cannot expect a high level of technical proficiency from them. What we did see was quite pretty.
Thank you to all the dancers and the staff for this lovely and laugh-out-loud performance.
Posted 19 February 2007 - 05:46 PM
Do you know whether Andersen's choreography is entirely original, or does he draw on the Cecchetti version or perhaps Balanchine's staging for NYBC?
Posted 19 February 2007 - 06:59 PM
Perhaps a dancer with some knowlege of different versions will comment for us?
Posted 19 February 2007 - 07:08 PM
I too would like to learn more about the answer to volcanohunter's questions. On the company website, Anderson is listed as a meamber of the Balanchine Trust and a stager of Balanchine ballets.
Posted 20 February 2007 - 04:16 AM
And now that I've recovered, it's to say that this is no small task.
I'm really happy to see the Breusenko has been given a lead in a full-length ballet. I've often enjoyed his dancing and hoped that he'd be given more opportunities.
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