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New York City Ballet Treats NYC to “Coppelia” After a 5-Year Hiatus

During February 2014, the third snowiest on record in NYC, winter weary dancegoers are welcoming the mood-boosting comedy and charm of the New York City Ballet’s version of “Coppelia”. Staged by Balanchine with the legendary Alexandra Danilova in 1974, the production has musical passages for added male variations from “La Source” and “Sylvia” interpolated into Delibes’ inspired original score. Balanchine, who famously said “Ballet is Woman,” clearly knew that the vigor and bravura of the gentlemen is also important. On the evening of February 15th at the Koch Theatre, the long-limbed Andrew Veyette as Franz did a decent job of delivering those qualities, although he can’t match the virtuosity of many of his NYCB colleagues or the pyrotechnics of American Ballet Theatre’s male contingent.

Megan Fairchild, Veyette’s wife, was very good indeed in the challenging role of Swanhilda. Girlishly petulant in Act I and broadly comedic in Act II, she evolved into an all-grown-up bride for a seamless wedding pas de deux complete with excellent balances and a daredevil dive into Veyette’s arms.

As Dr. Coppelius, the slightly dotty and deluded toymaker who tries to breathe life into a doll, guest artist Robert La Fosse delivered a convincing performance that not only showed he can still cut it as a character dancer but also left me feeling genuinely sorry for him when he learned of Swanhilda’s ruse.

Even so, the highlight of this ballet is always the mini corps de ballet of 24 little girls from the School of American Ballet in Act III’s “Waltz of the Golden Hours”. The young dancers, heart-meltingly adorable in pink tutus, had clearly been impeccably rehearsed by Children’s Ballet Master Dena Abergel and Assistant Children’s Ballet Master Arch Higgins. I’ve always thought that the roles of Dawn, Prayer, Spinner, and the Four Jesterettes are rendered thankless when the adult dancers do their best to get the audience’s attention while all eyes are actually on the youngsters.

A historical note: The bells that bedeck the stage for the festival honoring a new carillon in Act III are inscribed with the names or initials of the artists involved in the ballet’s creation: the composer, Leo Delibes; E. T. A. Hoffmann, the author of the tale that inspired the plot; Arthur St. Léon, the choreographer for the 1870 premiere; Marius Petipa, who restaged the ballet in 1874; Balanchine and Danilova respectively for the 1974 production; Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder with Balanchine of NYCB; and Rouben Ter-Arutunian, who designed the scenery and costumes.

Finally, my only criticisms are that the adult ensemble sections were not a clean as the children’s and that the girl who played the scared friend of Swanhilda upstaged the Villagers during the character dances in Act I. She does have a talent for humor, which is surely why she was singled out, but she needs to contain her obvious eagerness when she’s in a spot on stage right for the Mazurka. The other corps girls were reacting appropriately by gently swaying to the music or engaging in occasional rhubarb, but she was overly animated and broke into a full-on paddle turn at one point. If she’s reading this, or if someone lets her know what I’ve written, she needs to be reassured that my comment is just a gentle nudge. I hope her career blossoms so that she’ll have a chance to take her gifts and enthusiasm to center stage.

You can still catch performances of NYCB’s “Coppelia” on February 22nd and 23rd. Bring your little ones, or borrow a child or two. “Coppelia” is a perfect introduction to the fact that there really are ballets besides “The Nutcracker”!  

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