Shanghai Ballet: Non Coppelia a no-go
Posted 06 October 2002 - 09:15 PM
I've heard it said that the only bad competion is poor quality productions. It's an idea I subscribe to. This company's presentation of it's production of Coppelia at Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts at the University of Connecticut was bad for ballet. I hate to think that this might be someone's first experience of ballet; they'd be disinclined to buy another ticket.
The warning should have been the photo in Jorgensen's season brochure advertising the event. Although it was captioned Coppelia, Shanghai Ballet, it was a photo of Les Sylphides. But I thought it was the direction at Jorgensen's ignorance of dance that was at fault and bought 2 tickets anyway.
After all, Coppelia is a ballet that could be carried by one good ballerina as Swanhilda and a decent actor of a Franz. It's a wonderful ballet to bring children to, a comedy with very dancing music. So I thought I'd bring my 4-year-old. The story is easy to follow.
Not in this production! For one thing, the title character never appeared in Act 1. Oh, the choreography frequently referred to spot where Coppelia should have been sitting, reading her book, but there was nothing there. So Swanhilda & Franz try to get the attention of.... what... thin air? Perhaps something was wrong with the set in that theater. Jorgensen is ghastly for touring shows because it has no fly space... but I'm not sure they couldn't have figured something out. Certainly no announcement was made.
But this production looked like no one involved had ever seen the ballet Coppelia before. Perhaps they got most of the steps from rumors? It was pretty clueless. I haven't Coppelia's choreography memorized, but much was missing all the same. And in the 2nd act, all the dolls were chinese... so when it was time for Swanhilda/Coppelia to do the Scottish dance and the Spanish dance, it was like a total non sequitur... I'm not sure anyone understood why suddenly she was handed a fan or what.
We didn't stay to see what was missing in the 3rd Act.
And the character dances in the first act were bizzare as well... something didn't translate cross-culterally here... in my experience, the emphasis on stamping the floor, etc is to underline the rebound away from it... here all the focus of the step went into the floor and died.
It was a case of total misdirection. The dancers were technically within reason for a 1-night stand college tour... they had beautiful feet... looked like they'd been selected for body types from out of a very very large pool.... were all together en corps... but totally clueless.
I wish it HAD been a production of Les Sylphides. The dancers looked like they had the goods to deliver a good production of that.
Anyway. BE WARNED. Save your money for some chance to see a Frederic Franklin staging of this piece. Skip this company doing Coppelia.
Posted 06 October 2002 - 11:19 PM
Was that touring company actually the state ballet company in Shanghai or just a pickup group (like some of the "Moscow" or "Russian" companies)
I wonder if they were in fact stymied by the venue. Has anyone else seen this company or production?
Posted 07 October 2002 - 06:29 AM
Posted 07 October 2002 - 01:36 PM
It was rather odd to have all Asian dolls (the characters, not the dancers!)
Wasn't this credited as Pierre Lacotte's reconstruction? It was a very pretty evening, certainly not a romp, but quite enjoyable for the audience, I'd venture.
I worked this show and I must say that this is the most well-mannered, well-organized, professional and efficient group I have worked with in years. It was a pleasure.
Posted 07 October 2002 - 03:57 PM
Although I didn't see Coppelia, I think that Lacotte's reconstruction was meant to be of the original Arthur Saint-Leon choreography, not the more familiar choreography by Petipa, which is why you didn't recognize it, Amy.
Posted 08 October 2002 - 12:18 AM
If I remember correctly, one of the dolls of the second act was Chinese, but not all of them (I remember there was a Moor, for example).
Posted 08 October 2002 - 06:30 AM
in any case the dolls in the workshop of act 2 were definitely distinguished one from the other: one was chinese but more royal-seeming than usual, complete w/golden winged crown, there was persian looking one, and a differently turbaned fellow there too. one doll, a literally black standing figure of a man, was a mannequin, but the other dolls - the persian, the other turbaned one, and the chinese dolls - did very precise little actions when wound up as is traditional: the persian turned the pages of a book, the other turban-wearer played cymbols and the chinese doll played a xylophone.
but coppelia was most definitely behind her window in act 1 in geo.mason, except she didn't move at all.
Posted 08 October 2002 - 06:53 AM
Posted 08 October 2002 - 08:08 AM
But I don't remember any "blowing kisses" gestures...
Posted 08 October 2002 - 09:32 PM
Estelle, the dolls didn't include a Spanish or Scottish doll?
In the last production of this that I saw, staged by Basil Thompson on Ballet Chicago, there were: Chinese Doll, Soldier Doll, Moorish Doll, Spanish Doll & a Scottish Doll . The dances Coppelia/Swanhilda does after she's been "given life" refer to them. In the Shanghai production, some of the choreography remained of these dances but the dolls weren't there. I wonder why not? Did some one later come along and say "oh, there really ought to be a Scottish doll if She's going to do Scottish steps later?" or did someone forget to make a note of it in the Saint Leon archival material?
There was a lot of interaction between Swanhilda & Franz that I missed in the first act... with Swanhilda teasing Franz & Franz trying to catch her. Much of it is so musical that it is hard to believe it wasn't there from the start. You can almost hear Swanhilda laughing at Franz in the music.
Also in the Shanghai version, the part where the guys sort of rough up Dr. Coppelius was more of a formalized dance and was missing much of the humor. I can imagine how this got built up over the years and added on to, etc. but it was almost difficult to understand what was happening in the Shanghai version.
I don't remember much of the 2 other Coppelias I've seen. One was NYCB's broadcast by PBS back in the 1970s or 80s of which I remember almost nothing except an image of Dr. Coppelius dancing with a rag-doll Coppelia at the end? I wonder if this is available on video yet. Before that, in the 70's or '60s, as a child I was taken to ABT's production. For some reason that elaborate linking of hands the girls do before sneaking into the workshop remains with me over all those years. Perhaps "elaborate" is not the right word. Dramatic? Comic?
I guess I'd like to ask you, Estelle, if the Coppelia production you saw was very playful & comic?
The Shanghai dancers were technically nice and the costumes were nice enough, but the drama and the humor were almost non existent. Again, I reiterate that they may be beautiful doing Les Sylphides.
Posted 08 October 2002 - 11:56 PM
When I saw it, yes, it was lively and comic. Perhaps much of it has to do with the interpretation (and the coaching), if the mime isn't done well enough probably the plot is impossible to follow...
Posted 09 October 2002 - 05:12 AM
neither NYCBs nor ABTs 'Coppelia' has been put out on video and only NYCBs to the best of my knowledge has been filmed formally.
as you recall NYCBs was telecast as an early (and it turned out the ONLY) Live From Lincoln Center/Great Performances during that era (Balanchine greatly disliked the results of the filming).
however the image you have of Coppelius dancing w/ a rag doll i think is one you might be confusing with Petit's modernistic Coppelia, and in which Coppelius is danced by Petit himself. this scene is excerpted on Fonteyn's MAGIC OF THE DANCE. in the end of Balanchine & Danilova's production Coppelius just runs on in distress and dismay carrying his denuded doll after it's been 'switched' by Swanilda for her escapade. This little moment is also in Lacotte's last act.
BTW as british readers might point out, there is now a recently filmed version of de valois' petipa-based Coppelia on tape and on DVD it's led by Leanne Benjamin and Carlos Acosta. i think you'll find it closely related to the structure and details of both Balanchine's and the ABT version you mention here.
i don't think Petit's is filmed complete, but i could be wrong.
Posted 09 October 2002 - 08:42 AM
I recently saw the RB version (Osbert Lancaster production, which I like) but for my money, the most beautiful production, by far, is the NYCB which I believe they are doing this winter season. I think it is a perfect production to introduce children to ballet--short, sweet, they can have a good time with all the doll's variations, and the music is so beautiful.....
Posted 09 October 2002 - 08:46 AM
Posted 09 October 2002 - 09:03 PM
Thank you Juliet, I'll consider taking my 4 year old in to see NYCB's if I can manage the drive. I still hope to some day get her to a dance performance that makes her eyes sparkle. (I tried a Nutcracker last year, but she thought the Sugarplum Fairy's variation the funniest thing she'd ever seen. Can't say it ever inspired deep belly laughs in me, but we all have different reactions to dance, don't we?).
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