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Ballet Arizona's Coppelia (Hartley/Breusenko)

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First, a public rant, followed by a rave: Why, oh why cannot The Arizona Republic use a ballet reviewer? In his recent review, their reviewer -- whom I shall not bother to name -- continues to show he doesn't know ballet. He writes as though he has just held his nose through an entire performance, mainly, so far as I can tell, because he has seen Coppelia before. I have news for him -- he's the one that stinks! As for my rave -- it is for our Ballet Arizona audiences, who are continuing to grow, both in sophistication and size. When I attended the Sunday Matinee with my family, we enjoyed being part of an audience that was so plainly delighted, throughout.

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.

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I wish I knew that, Volcanohunter -- I should check out various videos and see. Years ago, I saw the Royal Ballet version at Covent Garden; while I saw it a number of times, I was looking at it differently than I do today, so really can't make any comparisons. Certainly, Anderson's Nutcracker paid tribute to Balanchine's (why didn't he go ahead and mimic that wonderful slide en pointe, I wonder). This would be another fertile topic to include an interview.

Perhaps a dancer with some knowlege of different versions will comment for us?

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Thanks for the review. (And for the rant as well. Many of us outside the biggest cities share your feeling about the kind of reviewers mis-assigned to the ballet beat.)

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.

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Mr. Brushenko did a nice job of making Franz likable, and not too much of a dolt.

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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