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Connecticut Ballet: Coppelia

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When one goes to see a small company pull off a big ballet, one is never really sure what one is in for. Sometimes, with luck, the ballerina is enough to make the ticket worth while, while one is forgiving of the sets, costumes, ensemble dancing and incidental choreography.

It’s a pleasant surprise at Connecticut Ballet’s current Coppelia production. The sets and costumes are charming, in fact, the 2nd Act toy shop set is quite inspired!. The ensemble dancing, particularly from the men, is better than one would have seen in a company this size 20 years ago, the dancer playing Franz had some stunning bravura technique and the dancer playing Swanhilda has some beautiful extensions. The character dancing, at least the first piece, was very easy on the eyes (I’m terrible at telling a Czardas from a Mazurka… and I thought they were doing czardas steps first but I see in the score it’s the other way around). The Palace is an excellent house to see ballet in, a charming survivor from the jewel-box age of cinema theaters.

Where the production is lacking is not in the technical level of the dancing and not in the choreography, (which in some places had better group choreography than other Coppelia productions I’ve seen…) but in an area I think might be found reflected in other companies in this new century. It’s been a long time since the domination of the story ballet. Dancers have so much better technique than they did decades ago… it’s really quite impressive… but what’s been lost, perhaps, along the way, are the acting skills. Because Coppelia is a comedy and the story is told through mime doesn’t mean therefore that Swanhilda must clownishly relate the drama. Timing is everything with comedy (and acting). Making gesture large enough to read in the theater isn’t the same thing as overacting. Where dancers need coaching now is not so much for their technique and movement dynamics as for their acting…. As the Ballets Russes generation leaves us, will acting through dance become a lost art?

Swanhilda was danced by Therese Miyoshi Wendler,

Franz was danced by Mikhail Ilyin

Dr. Coppelius was played by Brett Raphael

Staging/Choreography by Artistic Director Brett Raphael

Special Unexpected Treat of the evening: Dawn soloist, Jiyoung Park, whose lovely physical expression of the steps was just dreamy…. I could have watched her for far longer.

The production runs for one more matinee in Stamford on Sunday and then an evening & matinee next weekend in Hartford at the Bushnell.

Wonderful to see what can be accomplished, even on a shoestring.

Would that lighting designer Bradley King had seen fit to indicate that Coppelia was involved in the plot with a ray or two of light, and that whomever took on the props responsibility had figured out the butterfly & wheat a little more convincingly...

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You bring up an interesting set of questions having to do with storytelling and narration. For so long, companies have been winnowing out the traditional mime set 'speeches,' for various reasons, so we aren't accustomed to seeing stories explained in ballet. One of the pleasures of the Balanchine/Danilova Coppelia was the use of mime in the first two acts. Franz moons over the doll he mistakes for a girl, Coppelia shows us her exasperation with him, and then her discovery that the doll is just a doll, Dr Coppelius is cranked at the young men in his town and infatuated with his creation -- these are not simple ideas, and we get them through gesture language.

But yes, just because Franz has done a silly thing, he doesn't necessarily dance 'silly,' which, of course, makes the reveal all the more exciting.

(the pleasure is all the more vivid for being unexpected -- Balanchine is never the choreographer I think of when I wonder about ballet mime!)

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when Balanchine found 19th-c. style mime apt, he staged it quite matter-of-factly - his HARLEQUINADE is one such example.

re: the Balanchine/Danilova COPPELIA, yes, it was telecast, "live" from Lincoln Center - an "experiment" that Balanchine evidently didn't find successful, making this the first and last of such telecasts while he was at the helm of NYCB.

i know of no videos of Franklin's staging that were released on video.

here is the NYPL cat. entry on the telecast in its collection:

Coppélia: 1978. 150 min. : sd. color

Telecast on WNET-TV's Live from Lincoln Center series on January 31, 1978. Producer: John Goberman. Directors: Kirk Browning and Emile Ardolino. Writer: Tobi Tobias. Host: Edward Villella. Conductor: Robert Irving.

Choreography: George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova. Music: Leo Delibes. Book: Charles Nuitter after E. T. A. Hoffmann. Scenery and costumes: Rouben Ter-Arutunian. Lighting: Ronald Bates. Performed by Patricia McBride (Swanhilda), Helgi Tomasson (Frantz), Shaun O'Brien (Dr. Coppelius), and members of the New York City Ballet.

Book, Charles Nuitter after E.T.A. Hoffmann ; scenery and costumes, Rouben Ter-Arutunian ; lighting, Ronald Bates ; writer, Tobi Tobias.

Act I -- Intermission interviews by Edward Villella with Patricia McBride, Helgi Tomasson, and Alexandra Danilova -- Act II -- Intermission interviews by Edward Villella with Shaun O'Brien and Robert Irving -- Act III.

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Saw Coppelia again tonight… this time in Hartford. What a difference a week can make. Lighting issues fixed. Perhaps there had been first night jitters… softer acting, clearer story. Beautiful counterpoint between Dr. Coppelius & Swanhilda in Act II.

Grand pas de deux in Act III alone was worth the price of the ticket. .. just stunning… and the use of the children was so charming… particularly the surprise ending to the Prayer solo.

One night stand college tour companies, “Stars of”, and well run school productions are not the same. Thank you, Mr. Raphael, for bringing a classical ballet company back to Hartford.

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