Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×


Recommended Posts

Tuesday Night

Last night's opening night of Coppelia went very well. In particular Yvonne Borree gave a very strong performance as Swanhilda, partnered by Ben Millepied as Frantz. Millepied's youth, buoyancy and exuberance are a good match for this role. I'm not sure I can imagine Charles Askegaard here. We shall see.

I had forgotten (or never before noticed) what a killer role Swanhilda is in terms of both endurance and range, comparable in demands perhaps only to Odette/Odile or to Aurora in the familiar repertory. In Acts I and II, Swanhilda is a predominantly a soubrette/demi-character role. As that is Yvonne Borree's natural emploi, she was quite at home in both, although I did not expect how well she would mime the role and register its dramatic details. Borree's Swanhilda was not dark in response to Frantz's flirtation with the Doll but rather lighter and more flirtatious. Yet she remained (as she must) in command of Frantz, her friends, Coppelius and the situation. I found this an acceptable reading.

Borree managed the more classical Petipa-esque variations in Act I (the Ear of Wheat, etc.) with confidence and was then I thought quite brilliant in Act II, which is so very demanding, as Swanhilda dances nearly the entire Second Act.

It is Act III, however, which breaks the envelope of the soubrette type and makes Balanchine's Swanhilda almost beyond any dancer's natural emploi. Balanchine's choreography here is very French School -- reminiscent of La Source and Raymonda Variations -- full of moments when the Ballerina must dominate the stage simply by her presence and carriage, followed by bravura tours of the stage in pique turns, etc.. The role is classique (not soubrette or demi-character in type) and in its way perhaps differs even more from what preceded it than the Grand Pas in Beauty Act III differs from the demands of Aurora's role at her 18th birthday party.

Here, beyond the limits of what is natural to her, is where I really admired Borree last night, not just for making it through, but for doing so with aplomb, confidence and acceptable technique. You really see a dancer's ability when they are beyond their limits, physically and in type, and there is nothing but their training left to pull them through.

I imagine Jenny Ringer, whose best roles are La Source and Raymonda Variations, will be brilliant in Act III Thurday night. Ringer, however, is no soubrette and has on occasion a tendency to overact. In contrast to Yvonne, Acts I and II will be Ringer's challenge.

One other delightful thing was that the performances by the corps de ballet in the two Hungarian dances in Act I were the best I have ever ever seen those two dances performed by this company. The dances were strong and energetic, they filled the stage with color and motion, and it looked like they were having fun. (The tall girls corps de ballet partnered by the men of color -- interesting casting). Also the four apprentices as Act III Jesterettes were superb. Some of the Act III variations could have been tightened up but it was dress rehearsal time again.

A good evening. Maybe my last at the theater this winter, if I don't make it to Thurday night.

Link to comment


Without straying from appropriate topics, I wanted to add my kudos to the NYCB dancers for such a energetic performance of Coppelia yesterday, no small feat after a LONG dress rehearsal (open to all guild members) that lasted until less than 2.5 hours before the evening performance began.

I wish that this cast would have a gotten a chance to debut with "fresher legs", but it was an enjoyable performance just the same.

Millepied and Borree were both wonderful. Millepied has the right mix of youth, energy, bravura skills and mischief for the role. He danced beautifully, though I look foward to seeing him dance the role again after more rehearsal and rest.

Borree made a nice recovery in the second act when the "spanish" headdress wouldn't come out of her hair after the little solo with the fan. She finally managed to get it out, dislodging the bow. However, in her hurry the "Scottish" scarf didn't get properly would around her-LaFosse made a great attmempt at rewrapping it on the fly, but Borree danced most of the solo with the scarf dangling around her legs, but didn't miss a step.

Austin Laurent, as the acrobat doll, dropped more than a few jaws with his amazing past-180 degree split jumps. He's somewhat tall, with very long legs, which makes the effect all the more amazing.

Adam Hendrickson was excellent in the war & discord section, though not on the freshest of legs.

Hendrickson is doing Coppelius on Saturday with the Askegard led cast. Like Michael, I can't really see Askegard as Franz, but it will be interesting to see a very short Coppelius and a very tall Franz.



Link to comment

I agree that Borree and Millepied were excellent. Millepied invested Frantz with more charm and brio than one usually associates with this character. And Borree seemed to be having fun. Robert La Fosse's Coppelius had none of Shaun O'Brien's gothic greatness, but he was appealing in a kooky way. Too bad that the tepid audience response to Act II deprived him of a solo curtain call.

Although Borree's dancing in that act was, as Michael indicates, inspired, the automatons left much to be desired. Their names in the program meant nothing to me. I guess they're apprentices. For stretches of Act II nothing much seemed to be happening on stage. Perhaps La Fosse's performance was a little too subtle. And his Coppelius failed to affix the Scottish scarf securely on Swanilda so that it came instantly undone. He made an attempt to fix it, to no avail. Thankfully, Borree did not trip over it.

Another apparent costume mishap occurred in Act III, when Aesha Ash's debut in Discord and War was made tame by a cape that seemed somehow stuck to her. Adam Hendrickson, however, was a high-flying warrior. And nobody's lances got stuck on the stage.

As always, the most applauded performers of the night were the little and slightly older girls from SAB, who have such a key part in Act III. And, as always, they deserved it.

Link to comment

Yes, the automatons were "danced" by the four male apprentices. The fault is not theirs-they simply aren't given much to do. And they do all of their "dancing" with masks covering their faces, which has got to be hot and vision impairing.

Actually, I think that Boree was trying to start the Scottish dance too quickly, after spending extra time untangling the veil from her head, and didn't allow LaFosse enough time to tie the "scarf" (actually, doesn't she do the actual tying?). But, both Borrree and LaFosse showed their experience, and didn't let the mishap rattle them.


Link to comment

New York City Ballet dancers rehearse all day almost every day, as many performersing artists do. So I'm not sure it would be fair to say the dancers were "tired." Those rehearsals are still working reheasals. Dancers often have a different approach to reheasals, or rather a different focus. Some mark, other focus on difficult passages, or judge stamina.

That being said, I'd love to read more of what you saw during the performance proper.

Link to comment

I thought all the other soloists were fine -- Amanda Edge in Waltz of the Golden Hours; Abi Stafford as Dawn; Dana Hanson, Prayer; and Pascale van Kipnes, Spinner. I hope others who are more technically versed than I would say what they thought. But apropos rehearsals, I thought that one of the flaws of the evening was that the corps members looked at various times as though they could have used MORE rehearsal.

Link to comment

I misspoke(typed?)-Hanson and Van Kipnis were not marked as making debuts in their roles.

I saw the second cast last night. A bit hard to make comparisions because I was in the last row of the orchestra on Tuesday, and way up front last night, but here goes...

Ringer was wondeful-great mime and full of joyous energy, but she doesn't have the quickest feet. Like Borree, I'm not sure she's totally suited for the role, but made the very best out of her opportunity.

Askegard did a pleasant job, but he looked oversized in Coppelius' workshop and lacked the quickness in the steps that Millepied had on Tuesday. He was definately "boyish", but it's hard to get over his immense height. He and Ringer were wonderful in the pas de deux parts of the grand pas de deux, but I don't think the male solo sections were choreographed for such a tall dancer! (How big was Tomasson?).

His beats are nice, though with such a long body, he has to stretch a lot more to look fully stretched than a shorter dancer.

Askegard also changed some of the solo variations, and did not do the repeated double tours-snap-to-second position that Millepied did. Instead, he did an adequate, but not spectacular series of pirouettes & tours that got rather unbalanced by the end.

I think Millepied was the finer solo dancer, Askegard the stronger partner (though the shoulder lifts seemed a bit slower-farther to go I guess!). Ringer really did a flying leap into

Askegard's arms-she was not holding back at all.

The 3rd act soloists were all excellent, though Seth Orza (in Discord & War) doesn't have Adam Hendrickson's huge jumps, but was great with Ellen Bar. The children were again wonderfully rehearsed and a delight to watch.

A more amusing note-unlike Millepied who wobbled around, Askegard keeled straight over backwards into LaFosse's arms after "drinking" the "potion". Askegard (from my observations) was totally dead weight for LaFosse, and it took LaFosse so much effort to drag the totally limp Askegard into the chair that he stumbled into the table, sending one of the mugs flying. It was amusing, but I couldn't help but wonder how it will play out with the much smaller Adam Hendrickson as Coppelius on Saturday night.

All in all, a very fun evening! I'm not totally convinced that Askegard is suited for the role, and hope that perhaps Woetzel or Boal or ?? will be able to return to the role in the Spring.

Askegard's considerable talents are much better used elsewhere-for instance, his wondeful dancing in "Who Cares".


Link to comment

I agree Farrell Fan. I saw Peter Martins as Franz and he was as wonderful as Tomasson in his own way. I've also seen other tall men dance the part at other companies and I wouldn't say it was an exclusively short man's role.

In addition, Dr. Coppelius and Franz are not dancing a pas de deux. :) I don't think their heights need to match. Old men come in all shapes and sizes. I never read anywhere that he and Franz had to be the same height.

-- Leonard Pinth-Garnell

Link to comment

Thank for the info on Tomasson! I wish I had been around to see both Tomasson and Martins at the peak of their careers. Thank you "more mature" ballet fans for helping to fill in the blanks in my ballet knowledge!!

I don't mean to imply that only short men can dance the role of Franz, but it was choreographed for a shorter (but not short dancer). Intentionally or not, the development of the choreography does depend in part on the dancer it's been devloped on. However, Askegard isn't just tall, he's very tall, and his height is exaggerated by the smaller size of the NYCB Act 2 set (which is a fair bit smaller than the actual stage). (BTW, does anyone know how tall Martins is...6ft?)

Also, and more importantly, the role depends on the talents of the individual dancer. Balanchine's choreography seems to demand a quick dancer who can do the bravura jumps and spins. Askegard is a wonderful dancer, but with his great height, he's not the spinner or jumper that and doesn't have the whipping speed that guys like Woetzel or Millepied have/are. Last night was not the best display of his talents, and that's my point-he's so spectacular in ballets like "Who Cares" where the maturity and great flow of his dancing really stand out.

As for Franz and Coppelius-no, they do not have a pas de deux, but they do interact a lot, and a huge height difference makes it very tricky. In order to project all the way to the 4th ring, there needs to be a great connection between the dancers, something that is difficult when their faces are on greatly different levels. Plus, it needs to be at least somewhat plausible that Coppelius could keep Franz from escaping out the window and also to be able to drag him to the chair once he's unconscious. Nevermind the little details, like Coppelius snagging Franz by the ear-Askegard had to bend way over to make that work last night!

I don't think there is anything wrong with the casting, I'm more intrigued to hear about how the two dancers work around the height difference. Askegard managed nicely with LaFosse, and Hendrickson has developed into a wonderful character dancer, so I forsee good things!

Again, I sat in very different locations for each night, so it's hard for me to make direct comparisions...


Link to comment

I agree that height has something to do with turning ability, but sometimes it's also tightness of axis. I've worked with Chuck and I know how he turns. He's a natural turner and actually a rather fast one, because his axis is so tight (he's thin) - I've seen him do seven pirouettes onstage - in my own work I stopped counting after five ;) He's also one of those people who is a really consistent turner. At the end of Aubade, which was seven minutes of non-stop dancing, I gave him a series of turns, because he could do always do them even when exhausted.

Chuck is 6'4". I think Peter Martins is about 2-3 inches shorter, but I could be wrong about that.

Link to comment

I remember reading an interview Peter Martins gave during his dancing days. He mentioned requesting Balancine give him a chance to dance Franz, and Balanchine, noted that the set was suitable for more diminutive dancers and initially withheld the role. Perhaps Martins first danced it when no other suitable Franz was available.

As a rule of thumb, I think the fewer discrepancies the eye has to "even out," the easier it is to enjoy the action. For example, I remember the blonde Judith Fugate dancing Swanilda when the doll was dark-haired. And the old doc's not going to notice something different?:confused: :rolleyes:

Link to comment

I don't mean to imply that only short men can dance the role of Franz, but it was choreographed for a shorter (but not short dancer)

Who do you mean? Helgi Tomasson? Freddie Franklin? Eugenie Fiocre?

While I can't speak to how well Askegard performed as Franz, (I won't be seeing him until Saturday night), nor to his capabilities as a "spinner," I've always thought his comic, mid-Western corniness, when he chooses to use it, would make him an excellent Franz (who is, after all, not the sharpest pencil in the box). I've also found Askegard to be one of the best, and most natural, turners in the company.

I believe Peter Martins is 6', and Askegard 6'2" although I could be wrong.

Thank you "more mature" ballet fans for helping to fill in the blanks in my ballet knowledge!!

De nada; after all, what is the Internet for, if not the sharing of knowledge? And the thanks are mutual; I'm sure I'm not the only "mature" fan here who welcomes these opportunities to retrieve from one's fading memory some of those bits of historical minutiae which add so to the charm of this great art form, and which, otherwise, one might simply forget.

Link to comment
I don't mean to imply that only short men can dance the role of Franz, but it was choreographed for a shorter (but not short dancer). Intentionally or not, the development of the choreography does depend in part on the dancer it's been devloped on.
Kate, I agree. When Martins danced Franz, he didn't dance the original choreography, but arranged something of his own (needless to say, it wasn't anywhere as good). And the original choreography, or parts of it, date back further than Tomasson. For Franz's Act III variation, Balanchine borrowed the music from Delibes's Sylvia, and also borrowed his own choreography from the Sylvia pas de deux that he made in 1950. The role was danced at the premiere by Nicholas Magallanes, but he was soon replaced by André Eglevsky, and Eglevsky and Tallchief danced it all over the world. Neither Magallanes nor Eglevsky was tall.
Link to comment

Thanks again!

I was referring mostly to the third act, which is where most of Franz's actual dancing takes place. From what I understand, Balanchine re-choreographed most of that act (and wasn't Tomasson the first man in the role?).

I think Askegard had a slighly off performance spinwise-usually his spins are quite wonderful like last Saturday in "Who Cares" (can you tell I'm just a little bit gaga over that performance :))!). It may also have been one of the tours that threw his balance off (and this made it hard to start the pirouette off balanced), and though things kind of dissolved in that particular sequence, he did recover with an elegant, balanced finish to his knee.

For that matter, I certainly envy natural spinners-I'm not a natural spinner in skating or ballet...

Thank you Carbro for that little tidbit. The set is somewhat cramped, and one of my first observations was that Askegard looked very big for the set.



P.S. Anyone want to venture a guess why, if the ballet is set in Austro-Hungary, that all the signs are in French? Is that historically accurate, or just a result of the original French choreographer?

Link to comment

I take it as an homage to the ballet's French origins and a nod to Mr. B's francophilia.

Another homage: The Act III bells are "engraved" with the initials of various people associated with Coppelia: ETAH, the story's author; LD, the composer; ASL, original choreographer; LK the chief benefactor of NYCB; and GB, either the original Swanilda (Giuseppina Bozzacci [sp?]) or the choreographer of this version. What a lovely touch. (It's almost like finding Hirschfeld's "Ninas"):)

Link to comment

When he was alive and making those changes himself, yes.

I miss that flat-footed promenade in Who Cares' "Embraceable You" pas de deux. It went on pointe when Heather started doing the role, and I'm sure was more flattering to her, but it never reverted back.

There must be half a dozen versions of the male variation of "Tchaikovsky pas de deux" out in the world.

Link to comment

Regarding Franz, I think the dancer's strengths count for more than the height. Peter Martins had very strong foot work. Damien Woetzel is 5-10, not short and not tall, and handles the technical tests of the part. So did Bonnefeux, who was of average height, and La Fosse, who danced Franz opposite a taller Kozov as Dr. C.

Yes, a Coppelius that matches up height-wise with Franz is ideal, but is it a hard and fast rule? Is Askegard ideal as Franz? The important thing was to have Ringer dance the lead. With Woetzel out, Askgegard is probably a better partner for her than Millepied and Boal. I thought he aquitted himself well. Not as perfect in the part as Millepied, but OK.

Link to comment

You can have big Coppeliuses (Coppelii?) and little Coppeliuses, and the big ones can be threatening and ominous, the little ones wacky and irritating, or any mix of qualities. I recall the first Royal Ballet Coppelius I saw - Stanley Holden. He was about the same height as the Franz, but he played him short! Sort of a Buster Keaton-type. He came across as a crackpot, and potentially dangerous, but ultimately a sympathetic character. It takes all kinds!:)

Link to comment

I hope someone who saw Saturday's performances will post --(more description please, less critical judgment) -- also what was audience reaction like, how was attendance? (In the Woods here on a grey Sunday, news will be welcome).

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...