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Miami City Ballet "Coppelia"

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I'm really looking forward to the upcoming run of MCB's Coppelia next season. For us Cubans this beautiful little jewel of ballet is as deeply rooted in our soul as much as Giselle, and even more than Swan Lake. This is a ballet with countless opportunities for everything, from show-stopping tricks enjoyment to wonderful acting all along while having a good laugh during certain moments. Now, I have never seen Villella's production, and reading the footnotes of the next season in the brochure, a question-(actually some questions)- popped in my head.

Is this the Coppelia that Balanchine and Danilova staged for City Ballet...?

How involved Balanchine was in its choreography-(not its mere staging)...?, or to put it in other words...

Did he re choreographed the whole thing-(just as his Nutcracker or his Raymonda segments)...?

If so, why is that the pamphlet doesn't name Balanchine as the choreographer, but it notes Saint Leon, unlike B's Swan Lake that even presenting whole segments untouched from Ivanov choreography, still credits him as the choreographer...?

Could that mean that this Coppelia is very close to the Mariinsky of Danilova's times and so he just decided to be here a mere stager instead of choreographer...?

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Aha...thanks Helene for the info! How strange that Villella didn't choose to stage Balanchine's choreography, being so aggressive in his preservation efforts of his master's works. This is very interesting too, for which now I wonder who then is responsible for staging the "traditional" MCB choreography. That info is not given here, unlike, let's say, ABT, where Frederick Franklin is mentioned as the stager of their Coppelia-(a "traditional" one also...?...and a little :off topic: BTW , what happened to their Enrique Martinez' staging...?)

Another Diane & Actaeon "moment"...? :huh:

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It may have been a money issue: the Trust usually requires that a company used the original sets and costumes or get permission for new production designs, which PNB/SFB did for their co-production. That requirement is why Francia Russell said they couldn't do "Liebeslieder Walzer" for PNB, which Kent Stowell especially loved: their sons had to get special permission to allow excerpts to be performed at their farewell gala without the sets.

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I didn't know that about the sets. Within the past nine months I've seen Scotch Symphony with new backdrops I didn't think suited it as well as the old Horace Armistead one, and I've seen Divertimento No. 15 with costumes or sets less effective than years ago. (The MCB one for Divertimento No. 15 is weird: We see another audience looking across the stage at us.)

The short answer about Coppelia seems to be that Balanchine's version, which presumably this is not, is "the same" as the old version, except for Act III, which is (almost) entirely his. Or mostly the same, except for three dances in Act I. (And two in Act III are from elsewhere, too.) Okay, the same as what?

Judging from the accounts in Reynolds, and in Balanchine and Mason, Alexandra Danilova staged the versions of Acts I and II reconstructed by Sergeev she danced in for fifteen years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo for NYCB in 1974; Sergeev's "voluminous" notes were based on Petipa's 1884 version based on St. Leon's original of 1870, further revised by Cecchetti in 1894, except that the "Russian" Act III is lost (and the French Act III was dropped "permanently" in 1872 anyway).

In "Ballet 101", Robert Greskovic points out the travesty tradition in Paris in St. Leon's time, and says that in re-thinking the ballet, Petipa presented Coppelia's leading male character with a first-class male dancer, and that by the time it reached the status of a "classic" in the Twentieth Century, it did so out of Petipa's restaging. (Similarly Giselle has derived from Petipa's work, at least until the current PNB project, I suppose.)

My inference is that what MCB puts on owes as much or more to Petipa and Sergeev as it does to St. Leon, and nothing to Balanchine. (I've not run across the origin of the Ballet Russe Act III, but I do remember vaguely seeing a Coppelia away from NYCB years ago - maybe in the '70s, a visiting Danish company, RDB? - where Act III largely reprised Act I and not thinking much of that idea. Balanchine's plan of a divertissement finale with a big pas de deux a la Nutcracker seemed better theater to me.)

As to who actually stages it, that may turn up in the program. Have we seen that detail published earlier with other ballets? I could see them staging ABT's production if it were much cheaper; in the case of their Sonnambula, doing that provided a visually rich scene but cost some dramatic effect that I felt was achieved by TSFB, with their plainer set, as I wrote at the time. Anyway, if Franklin is the ultimate source for MCB's Coppelia, I'd expect it to be very similar to Danilova's work at NYCB as far as Acts I (mostly) and II (entirely) are concerned, as they were both in BRdMC together. Partners, in fact.

As for Balanchine's Swan Lake, I soaked up about as much as a non-dancing music lover could years ago when I watched Verdy and Hayden alternating in it, then went next door one evening and was astonished to recognize so many sequences in the white acts in the Royal's production. It seemed to me then that Mr. B had replaced the duller-seeming original sequences with more brilliant ones. So I don't know why Ivanov gets no credit at MCB except that he didn't at NYCB either.

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I'm not sure what the source is for SFB's program notes, but in them, there is a short history of the ballet and this production. While the notes state "With the bones of Petipa’s production intact but much new choreography, Balanchine’s Coppélia premiered in July 1974 in Saratoga Springs, New York." -- the third act was Balanchine's -- two people in the original production, Judith Fugate, Swanhilda's friend who finds Dr. Coppelius' key in the original and my last NYCB Swanhilda, and Helgi Tomasson, SFB Artistic Director and the original Franz -- describe the process of re-creating the first two acts:

For the dancers, the rehearsal period offered a kind of performance in itself, with them as observers of the in-studio dynamic between Balanchine and his beloved Choura (Danilova), considered a brilliant Swanilda (and with whom Balanchine had been romantically involved decades earlier). What former NYCB principal dancer Judith Fugate, who staged Coppélia for SF Ballet, remembers about that time is the back-and-forth banter. “She’s remembering it one way and he’s saying, ‘No, Choura, it wasn’t that way.’ ‘Yes, George, it was!’ They would play off of each other, which was delightful to see,” Fugate says. “And it was fun the way she taught things. She had that very heavy Russian accent, and in Act 2 when Swanilda’s asking the friends, ‘What should we do?’ Danilova would go, ‘Vhat to do, vhat to do?’ ” Fugate throws her hands in the air on each “do.”

Tomasson recalls that time as “very much a collaboration between Mr. Balanchine and Danilova, what she had remembered from the days when they were young in Russia. He was reaching back to their roots, what they grew up with. So in a sense you can say he took what they could remember and passed it on, which is wonderful.”

The notes also talk about how Balanchine expanded the roles using music from "Sylvia" and "La Source":

Balanchine had expanded the role of Franz for [Tomasson], adding two variations, one in Act 1 (using music from Delibes’ La Source) and one in Act 3 (with music from Sylvia). Balanchine lifted the third-act variation from his own Sylvia Pas de Deux—another glimpse of his practical side. He knew that Tomasson had danced Sylvia Pas de Deux with Harkness Ballet and asked him if he remembered it. “And I said, ‘Yes, I used to dance it a lot,’ ” says Tomasson. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you show it to me?’ I hadn’t danced it for a long time, but it was very much in my body as a muscle memory. So I did, and he said, ‘Yes, that’s good. That works.’ ” (Balanchine used more music from Sylvia to add a coda in Franz and Swanilda’s third-act pas de deux.)
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From looking over old New York Times reviews by John Martin, the first big revival of Coppelia in the US was by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo on October 17, 1938, with Alexandra Danilova and Michel Panaieff. It was reconstructed from Sergeieff’s notes from Petipa & Cecchetti, with the rarely performed third act which “virtually none of us have seen.” Not all of the third act was from S’s notes; there was a “beautiful little betrothal dance by Massine especially for this revival.”

The April 3, 1940 production has Danilova & Igor Youskevitch (who would dance it with Alicia Alonso at least by 1957) and the production is “shortened here and there.” March 29 is with Mia Slavenska & Youskevitch. October 19, 1941 has “cuts and additions by Massine” but Martin notes that “too many cooks have not spoiled the broth.”

Ballet Theater does an abbreviated version by Simon Semenoff (Dr. Coppelius in BRdMC’s version) on October 23, 1942, with nothing of the last act but the grand pas. Martin: “It cannot be said that Mr. Semonoff’s version is a very gay or sparkling one.” Cast of April 4, 1943 includes Rosella HIghtower and Igor Eglevskky.

Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo seems to be doing both a short and longer version in 1944 & 1945 with Danilova and Frederic Franklin. Some programs feature “Divertissements from Coppelia.” Martin says the three act version “looks infinitely better than the short version" (2/25/1946).

During the same period two Balanchine festivals take place during the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Feb/Mar 1945 season celebrating his 25th anniversary as a choreographer – so he may have had a hand in fine tuning the third act divertissements.

And Edwin Denby in 1951 says,

I think the US Monte Carlo version the best by far I know, and one of the great ballets - especially when Balanchine cleaned it up in ’45. (He said that the pas de huit in Act One – the girls' number after the Ear of Wheat – was the inspiration for all his choreography.)

These are rough notes, dates and spelling may be slightly off - and should be checked against the Kirstein bio which I do not have at hand.

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it might be noted that the history of COPPELIA in Russia began in Moscow in 1882, two years before Petipa's (and Cecchetti's) Petersburg staging in 1884, where Frantz was danced by Pavel Gerdt. The '82 Moscow production was by Hansen, who, staged something presumably closer to Saint-Léon's version, including a travesty presentation of Frantz (initially Anna Nicolskaya, a pupil of the ballet school). This tradition prevailed in Moscow even after the Petersburg version was in place. Acc'd to Guest it wasn't until '96 that Frantz was performed by a male dancer in Moscow: Vasily Tikhomirov.

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with regard to the side-topic noted above addressing Balanchine's SWAN LAKE and an Ivanov connection: CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE notes the uses Balanchine's version makes of Ivanov's dances, including, initially the iconic pas de quatre of cygnets. the recent publication of Kirstein's Program Notes has 3 different ones for SWAN LAKE, each mentions Ivanov in one way or another.

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