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Shanghai Ballet: Non Coppelia a no-go


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#1 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 09:15 PM

My apologies for lack of details on this review... I have so little time right now that I shouldn't even be writing it, but this performance was such a low point that I felt people should be forewarned.

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.

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 11:19 PM

Thanks for posting, Amy, and I'm sorry that experience was so disappointing.

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?

#3 Kevin Ng

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 06:29 AM

The troupe touring America right now should be the entire company of the Shanghai Ballet and not a small pick-up group. I don't rule out however the possibility of several dancers staying at home due to injury or other commitments. I've only seen the company once, in Derek Deane's production of Swan Lake last year.

#4 Juliet

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 01:36 PM

I didn't think it was all that bad. The dancing itself was lovely, for the most part....neat and precise and the women had beautiful port de bras. The choreography and the production were, well, mannered. Rather formulaic and dutiful, not joyful. But the costumes were pretty enough, the dancers are all very young, the training was there. Not their fault if they had to dance what looked like mediocre choreography at v e r y s l o w tempi.

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. :)

#5 Ari

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 03:57 PM

I saw the Shanghai Ballet last week in Fairfax, Virginia (not the Coppelia but The White Haired Girl) and attended a talk by the company's director before the show. She said the company was founded in 1979 and both it and its school are supported by the state. I believe she said that there are one or two other ballet companies that also get government funding.

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.

#6 Estelle

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 12:18 AM

Well, I saw Lacotte's reconstruction danced by the POB school two seasons ago, and there definitely was a Coppelia doll in the first act, so there must have been a problem with the sets... Indeed the first act must be hard to understand if there is no Coppelia doll- Amy, I hope that your daughter was not too disappointed by that performance :(

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).

#7 rg

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 06:30 AM

at the geo. wash. univ. perf. there was a coppelia doll but she remained seated behind a closed window casement and did not have the little 'blowing kisses' automated-mime moment we're used to. (could this have been a conceit of petipa's and not been part of Saint Leon's version?)
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.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 06:53 AM

For what it's worth, the Danish production (late 19th century), which derived from St. Leon and bypassed Petipa, also has the blowing kisses mime.

#9 Estelle

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 08:08 AM

rg, the dolls of the POB performance were exactly like those you depicted.

But I don't remember any "blowing kisses" gestures...

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 09:32 PM

rg, So you could see Coppelia behind the windows? We couldn't. Thanks for the description of the dolls.... our seats weren't very good so it wasn't so clear the nationality (although there definitely wasn't a scottish or spanish doll). From our seats it looked like the Coppelia was a mannequin as well. You say she didn't move either... (I can't say I care if it was a dancer or not)

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.

#11 Estelle

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 11:56 PM

Amy, if I remember correctly there wasn't any Spanish or Scottish doll. Swanilda started dancing Spanish and Scottish dances after being given some objects, a flower and then a Scottish scarf or something like that. But I don't know if Lacotte's production is faithful to Saint-Leon about that, or if he changed it... Actually it was said to be Lacotte's production after Albert Aveline (POB ballet master) who had staged it in 1936, and removed the third act. I think Lacotte had danced it in his childhood when he was at the POB school. As far as I know, the productions danced at the Paris Opera were not influenced by the Petipa production (by the way, it is a pity in my opinion that the company doesn't dance the original Coppelia, which had been performed almost continuously since its premiere, but just a new version by Patrice Bart...)

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...

#12 rg

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 05:12 AM

hi amy:
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.

#13 Juliet

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 08:42 AM

I have the Petit complete version, but my copy is a copy and I don't know the provenance....

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.....

Juliet

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 08:46 AM

The Danish production was broadcast on Danish television in the early 1980s, with Lis Jeppesen as Swanilda and Fredbjorn Bjornsson as Coppelius. (It's quite different from the Balanchine or St. Leon-derived. The second acts are remarkably similar in all versions, but in the Danish one, only Swanilda is on pointe, there's a lot of character dancing, and everyone in it is nasty.)

#15 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 09:03 PM

Thank you, rg... I think you are correct that I've confused the two versions. Particularly since I kept wondering if I was remembering Balanchine playing Coppelius... I was probably remembering Petit. Were they broadcast within a year or two of each other? I also believe that what I saw of the Petit Coppelia was an excerpt. Has Frederic Franklin's staging of Coppelia for ABT been taped? (At least for the archives?) Last I remember, ABT performances were only being archivally taped by unmanned camera... unlike NYCB which managed 2-camera archivals. Did the NYPL Dance Division tape it on ABT? Or did the rights/unions prevent this?

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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