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Coppelia, 3-13

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I agree with Sandy and Sandi. The slip really wasn't a big deal in either the context of the solo and certainly not in the overall performance, and Orza did the full rotations, which was very impressive in itself. Focusing simply on the ending might be a human tendency, but it's not the whole story.

Every one of those performances was a major role debut in a full-length ballet. I saw two of the three performances, and the quality was consistently outstanding.

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Peter Boal said in a Q&A earlier this season that there would be a few retirements. A third dancer who will not be back next year although not retiring : Mara Vinson last PNB performance will be in the "Coppelia" Pas de Deux and Finale, the last scheduled work in the Encore Program.

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Your distinction between the rotation and the final pose is an interesting one -- we tend, both in dance and in sport, to put a high value on the "finish," the still picture we leave with the audience. In general, the more you learn about dance or about sport, the more you start to see the action that goes on before the snapshot.
Thanks, sandi. Your comment helps me to "see" a certain pattern concerning what I focus on, and don't focus on, during performances. I just realized that I don't look closely at the lift or the turn itself BECAUSE I'm anticipating the landing. (Another lesson in the virtues of "staying in the present.") I'll be thinking of what you say -- and trying to expand my vision -- in the future. :flowers:

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Saw the Thursday June 10 performance. Now suffering from insomnia and hopelessly humming the prelude in my head. It does get repetitive after a while....all advice on cures would be greatly appreciated. :)

Casting as listed was as delivered. Debuts: Rachel Foster was Swanhilde, Bejnamin Griffiths as Franz and Jordan Pacitti as Dr Copellius. Then we had the *Titans* - Titanias? in supporting roles: Dawn was Carrie Imler, Prayer was Carla Koerbes, Spinner was Chalnessa Eames, Waltz of the Golden Hours lead by Mara Vinson, and Discord (or was it War?) as Lindsi Dec.

I believe I was lucky to see the second week because the corps and supporting cast looked so relaxed! There was a level of confidence and ease in their roles. The corps was fantastic, and at the first intermission, I discovered why. Swanhilde's friends and the townspeople were nearly all solists or soloists-in-training for PNB. The Waltz of the Golden Hours was well received by the audience (you have to have the heart of Kim Jung Il not to feel they are the most completely adorable dancers ever).

I felt the sets were amazing - SFB fans, a treat awaits you next season!

Rachel Foster started off strong as Swanhilde. She has solid technique with better acting skills than many dancers. Handled the point work beautifully, but I felt she showed some rough edges in her upper body. More on that later. Ben Griffiths as Franz started out a little shaky, his jumps were not secure and I believe he needs more time to grow into a leading man. He lacks the masculine charisma. Nevertheless, he played the duped cad of a boyfriend very plausibly. During the second and third acts, he gained confidence and danced his solos with more panache and security. Jordan Pacitti was a revelation (though unrecognizable) as the Doctor.

I felt that Ms. Foster and Mr. Griffiths danced solos well, but were not a good partnership. The pas de deux adagio, with all the balances, was shaky from the beginning, middle and end. I held my breath through the entire thing. Fortunately no lost balances, but it was touch and go. Mr. Griffiths seemed to be a calm partner, but I felt this was purely mental on Ms. Foster's part, she simply lost confidence (or lost energy, this is the 3rd act and she must be exhausted). The response to the pas de deux was probably more relief than anything else.

And yet, they both came back 5 minutes later for beautiful solos! As noted above, one can have multiple levels of performance all within one night. I have seen both dancers in other things and they were wonderful. Mr. Griffiths has the makings of a wonderful character dancer, I can see him owning Puck in next season's Midsummer. Ms. Foster has been gorgeous on so many evenings, particularly the modern and "plotless" Balanchine ballets.

Next October for Halloween, I am definitely dressing up as Discord or War. Those costumes were *to die for*!

Afterwards, I went to the lecture (but I was about 15 minutes late). Jordan Pancitti and Peter Boal spoke, and Benjamin Griffiths arrived half way though in the back. Peter noted that he inquired about PBS filming Coppelia for a Great Performances broadcast, the Balanchine Trust is interested, but wants to hold off until the second season of Coppelia, they prefer to see all the kinks worked out in the first season. He also noted that the Trust gave approval to the sets, but that they do differ from the NYCB version. But the basic layout is the same.

Mr. Pancitti spoke of his coming retirement (he has a side business making custom candles, which he plans to expand). He noted his favorite roles over the years - Red Angels is at the top. He first saw it at NYCB while a student at SAB, and wrote his parents that someday he wanted to dance the role. He said this year has been a dream season with roles he's always wanted to dance, and that he has great memories of dancing Jardi Tancat in D.C. o n tour. Peter did not mention any other retirements (perhaps I missed that from the earlier part of the lecture).

Benjamin Griffiths is really short - maybe 5'6" at the most. I was surprised, but then again, I never thought Rachel Foster was statuesque until tonight. I guess it's all relative and proportion.

I will be sad to lose Mara Vinson from PNB and hope her next "home" in the dance world is gratifying for her. I am also sad to miss the fall 2010 season of PNB, as I depart for Lima in 3 weeks, for a 6 month tour of S. America. Fortunately for me, the Lima Ballet is also performing Coppelia this summer (their winter) so I am anxious to view their interpretion. Right around the time I get the endless loop in my head of the prelude to stop....

Finally, I am convinced that some things in story ballet are just boxes checked off by choreographers, and every story ballet must contain at least 75% to be considered legitimate. Examples:

(1) Dopey Male Lead / Cavelier who gets duped by a doll / potion / evil character, cheats on his true love, but realizes his mistake in the end

(2) Tangental reasons to have soloists / corps extravaganzas that have little to do with the story (discord and war as 2nd century Roman military in 19th century Galacia?)

(3) Female lead role who is clearly too smart / witty / courageous to deserve her dopey male lead character's lame behavior

(4) eccentric old man who fixates on a teenage girl, and gives her gifts / toys (it's kinda creepy)

(5) folk dancing! Preferably a Russian derivative!

Looking at the 2010-2011 season, only one Balanchine piece (Midsummer), but at least I will be back in the USA to see it!

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On 22 May Doug Fullington presented a seminar on "Coppelia" at the Phelps Center. He began with a discussion of the history and music of the ballet, with musical illustrations from the Kent Nagano/Lyons Opera Ballet Orchestra recording. After a short break, we moved to the main, stage-size studio for a discussion of the costumes with Costume Shop Manager Larae Hascall, a formidable designer in her own right, and a comparison of a partial reconstruction by Doug Fullington of the music to which Balanchine choreographed Spinner, danced by Brittany Reid, to the Balanchine version. The seminar concluded with a Q&A with stager Judith Fugate, a beautiful Swanhilda in her day, and Carla Korbes, who performed the role for the fist time last weekend.

Some historical and musical highlights:

  • The origin of the story is ETA Hoffmann's "Der Sandmann" (The Sandman). [This is the same source that Offenbach used in the Olympia section of "The Tales of Hoffmann"]
  • Originally Franz was a trouser role, performed by a woman.
  • The score had mini leitmotivs: Franz has two, Swanhilda none.
  • Delibes emphasize the national dances, Mazurka and Czardas.
  • The music was more symphonic and atmospheric and less literal than, for example, Adam's score for "Giselle".
  • The theme for the theme and variations for Swanhilda and her friends was originally from a Polish opera.

The handout had excerpts from the "Coppelia" chapter of Robert Fiske's book "Ballet Music". Doug created a chart to map the Act III Divertissement segments from the Original Score (1870), the published piano reduction (1870), and the Balanchine production (1974), and he noted where Balanchine added music from "Sylvia".

In the studio, Hascall displayed several costumes on mannequins: a woman "villagers" costume from the first act -- the villagers perform the Mazurka and Czardas -- Coppelia/Swanhilda's violet dress, the dress for Dawn, and there may have been another I forgotten. (It was hard to keep my eyes off of the green, violet, and gold villager's costume.) In addition, she had one of the corps de ballet girls' pink tutus from Act III, a fez, and one of the helmets worn by the Discord and War dancers, which to our astonishment wasn't made of metal or molded plastic, but was shiny, metallic-looking soft fabric, from which the bristly plumes were attached with velcro, making the "helmets" washable.

Hascall showed us the "Bible", a series of binders with costume sketches and swatches, and detailed information about the fabrics and construction. She explained that they stockpile fabric when the can, because it's not always possible to buy it again.

There were two sets of costumes each for Swanhilda and Franz, for different heights. Width is adjusted, at least in the women's costumes, by multiple long strips of hooks and eyes that allow multiple closures. The bodices could be detached from the skirts to mix and match sizes.

Hascall told us that in one of the intermediate lighting rehearsals, they realized that the violet of Swanhilda's dress washed out, and that they used such rehearsals to make adjustments. She was very happy that a single designer, Roberta Guidi di Bagno, was hired to do both costumes and sets. She told an anecdote about a full length designed by Ming Cho Lee (sets) and Martin Pakledinaz (costumes), in which during a lighting rehearsal, Lee remarked that perhaps he and Marty should have spoken more. Hascall said that the wisteria in the Act III sets was inspired by Guidi di Bagno own house in Italy. The designer created signed sketches for each of the corps girls.

The most astonishing thing she told us was that PNB got a liquor license in order to use grain alcohol to spray the costumes that aren't hand-washed after each performance, in order to kill the bacteria. She said they started with vodka, but it was too expensive. This was to keep chemicals and fragrances from commercial products off the dancers' skin, and she showed us how seams were covered where the fabric could be irritating. The Shop spends years refining and adjusting costumes to make them more efficient and comfortable.

The women's dresses were deliberately lengthened to look less 1970's -- the original NYCB production was in 1974, and PNB got permission to do a new design for this new PNB/San Francisco Ballet co-production -- and Hascall noted that the costumes for Dawn, Prayer, and Spinner were based on the same design.

Then Brittany Reid entered in the Spinner costume, and our jaws dropped: the dress was rendered in bright white with black, deco-like designs, including a wheat pattern on the skirt, and she looked like Audrey Hepburn in it. It's a stunner.

Reid worked with Doug on the partially notated variation from 1903, called "Work (Spinning Girl)", and Doug noted where they had to make educated guesses. Reid performed it and then the Balanchine version, and I was struck by the bigger use of space and strong use of the diagonal in Petipa. The deceptively simple movement reminded me more of Balanchine's Dawn variation than Spinner's, which is danced primarily downstage and laterally. Since this wasn't in the High School of Needle Trades, a shallow, comparatively wide stage, I thought maybe Balanchine didn't want the variation to look like the POB Melancholic, lost in a sea of blue on the l'Opera Bastille stage, but sandik pointed out after opening night that there was no room of the stage: the 24 girls from Waltz of the Golden Hours remain on stage until Discord and War shoo them off with everyone else.

Since this was stager Judith Fugate's first chance to see Reid dance the variation in the voluminous costume, she worked with Reid on making some of the movements bigger, so that they would have the same impact. On our way back into the discussion with Fugate and Korbes, we mobbed Reid to see the dress: it was like the scene in "The Nutcracker" where the guests go up to the dolls, but, thankfully, we didn't maul her, although we might have worried her for a few moments.

In the final discussion, Judith Fugate, who had started working with PNB last summer, then went to stage the ballet in one continuous phase for Boston Ballet, and later returned to finish the PNB staging, told us that she had been in the original, as Swanhilda's friend who finds the key at the end of Act I; Balanchine used to call her "Sarah Bernhardt", and she took her responsibility seriously, because if she wasn't clear, what followed wouldn't have made sense. (This is noted in the score as "Judy finds key.") She danced many roles in the production over time. (Her splendid Swanhilda was one of the highlights of my NYCB-going days, and I wasn't even a fan of the ballet at the time.) She said that Balanchine felt that the simpler the gesture, the clearer it is, and that he worked towards exact timing needed for comedy.

About the comedy, Fugate seemed pleased that each of the casts had different sense of humor, and they translated their humor into different interpretations.

She spoke with Korbes about the challenges of the role, like the simple, but intricate partnering, the sheer amount of dancing, and the changes from peasant to doll to elegant bride. For Korbes, it was her chance to play a peasant and to do comedy, and to do all of the jumps. She lauded the corps girls, and in response to a question, said if there was a collision, it was probably the fault of the lead, since they were dancing so precisely. I don't remember whether it was Fugate or Korbes who talked about the special feeling of being a role model for the young dancers.

It was a wonderful presentation, and :flowers: to Doug, Hascall, Reid, Fugate, and Korbes, who were so generous with their time so close to the premiere.

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I just found this compilation of comments sent to PNB about "Coppelia" on the PNB website:


Several people thought that PNB should ditch the Balanchine Act III. I love Act III, mainly because had Balanchine staged/choreographed "Sleeping Beauty", as he is said to have wanted to do for Darci Kistler, the fairy variations would have been restricted by the length of the music, and I love how the choreographer for Dawn, Prayer, and Spinner is an extended characterization for each that would have been restricted to the Lilac Fairy in SB.

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San Francisco Ballet opens their performances of this co-production on 19 March 11, and in their trailers and in their 30-second TV spot they use footage of Pacific Northwest Ballet:


Click "Watch "Coppelia": Behind the Scenes" or "Watch Trailer".

Mara Vinson is Swanhilda, James Moore is Franz, it looks like Jeffrey Stanton as Dr. Coppelius, and Chalnessa Eames is Spinner in the black and white deco dress.

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Several people thought that PNB should ditch the Balanchine Act III. I love Act III, mainly because had Balanchine staged/choreographed "Sleeping Beauty", as he is said to have wanted to do for Darci Kistler, the fairy variations would have been restricted by the length of the music, and I love how the choreographer for Dawn, Prayer, and Spinner is an extended characterization for each that would have been restricted to the Lilac Fairy in SB.

Exactly; the Act Three solos also provide the only ballerina dancing in the entire work except for Swanilda, who needs a rest SOMETIME...

I think that, alas, the Act Three solos rarely have such deluxe casting as Imler in Dawn and Korbes in Prayer, who I'm sure were both

nearly as good as the creators of the roles. Also, Dawn in particular was originally so difficult (especially the a la seconde turns

and the final leap into a pose on pointe) that even Merrill Ashley changed/modified a few steps in it; its later exponents changed nearly

everything in the variation, unfortunately, especially after Balanchine's death, and I doubt that unless Ashley staged it one would get

most of the brilliant original choreography back. This is no disrespect to Fugate, who is a wonderful stager and teacher; simply how

steps and variations get lost in ballet. two further examples of deluxe original casting were Colleen Neary in Discord and War (which may

not be the greatest number, but Neary had presence for days) and especially Marnee Morris in the Waltz; I am sure no one has ever done

the pique-fouettes in the recap the way she did, just as no one ever does her steps in My One and Only, sadly.

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