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Texas Ballet Theater's Coppelia

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I went to the opening of Texas Ballet Theater's (formerly Fort Worth Dallas Ballet) Coppelia last night. Ben Stevenson's choreography. Well, let's just say that things have improved by leaps and bounds!!! Back in the spring I had been less than enthusiastic about TBT's Cinderella, also by Stevenson, but any reservations I had at that time are now dashed!!

The production was beautiful. Desmond Heeley's sets and costumes were gorgeous as I expected from someone of Mr. Heeley's caliber. The orchestra sounded spiffy and the conductor, Jack Buckhannan (also the Music Director) seemed to be sensitive to the dancers without sacrificing the music, a rare skill, which made the viewing and listening completely pleasurable.

Mr. Stevenson's choreography was wonderful. He has reduced some of the pantomime in the first act making it a lot clearer for audiences of today to follow what is going on. While I missed some of that pantomime, I think he made the right choice in streamlining it. There is a lot of dancing, although not so much of a variation for Swanhilda in the opening of the first act as in some other productions. But the Czardas and Mazurka were a great success. The village priest took over some of the duties the burgomeister might ordinarily do since the burgomeister doesn't appear until the third act. The second act was delightful with considerable help from the sets and costumes, although the choreography needed no "help." Third act has an excellent wedding pas de deux. Musically, this act it was a little different from what I have seen before. There was actually an ending note for Dawn which was nice since she got to bow and not have to run off in the wing leaving the audience wondering if that was the end of her variation. Then there was a double pas de deux of wedding couples, followed by the Prayer variation. All of these were handsome and well staged. Franz's solo was danced to the music that I know of as War. Mr. Stevenson seemed willing to tailor some of the choreography to the individual dancers which I think is a hallmark of a great director. Dance of the Hours was done by the corps de ballet and was very full bodied, beautiful steps and patterns.

The dancers have really risen to the occasion. You can certainly see the hand of an experienced, highly accomplished director in this area. It was gratifying to see Michele Gifford (formerly of NYCB) as Swanhilda. This is a really strong dancer who can act and play the soubrette. Her brise diagonals in first act were quite good, yet you find yourself not watching steps, but dance. She does a first rate job of telling the action through dance rather than just executing a series of steps. Ronnie Underwood was highly improved as Franz. His first and second acts were quite charming and he conducted himself in a much more "leading dancer" manner than he did in Cinderella. He was a little weak in some partnering and in his variation in the third act, but if he can trust himself, and more importantly, Mr. Stevenson, then he might really turn out to be something. Tim O'Keefe was an excellent Dr. Coppelius. Enrica Guana Tseng appeared as Dawn and was radiant. I'm sure her many fans look forward to seeing her turn as Swanhilda. Margo McCann was Prayer and never ceases to amaze with her stage presence. Corrina Peterson was a very notable Mazurka lead. Many of today's dancers don't "get" these character dance roles so it was nice to see someone step into the Mazurka with relish.

This is a "must see" production. The entire level of the companyhas come up, not to say that the corps doesn't have room for improvement. But I am secure in the knowledge that this too will be remedied in due time. It makes me very excited to see what Mr. Stevenson has in store for us the rest of the season.

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Oh, it was just a little bit of mime left out. The "old man" mime, and they mostly mimed Coppelia as holding the book and I am just used to seeing the mime for "beautiful" done also when referring to Coppelia. The two pas de deux couples were wedding couples in addition to Swanhilda and Franz. They did a variation to music I wasn't familiar with. What bugs me is that the reviews posted in the local papers (Dallas and Fort Worth) and in the "links", here, were done by music critics who don't seem to be too knowledgeable about ballet.

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