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The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

A Light Coppelia

The Washington Ballet
Eisenhower Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
Thursday, April 1, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 11 April 2004

Lively, light, danced with pizzazz and not badly acted, the Washington Ballet's Coppelia may signal a new artistic initiative to explore works from the past. Inserted into the printed program was a sheet announcing the company's 2004/5 repertory with Giselle on the list.

For Coppelia, the production team of Charla Genn and Septime Webre has taken the Russian version familiar in the West and knitted some new steps here, embroidered on heirloom motifs there, left certain passages intact and fluffed it all out in Jose Varona's holiday costumes and with his atmospheric sets. Undoubtedly the purpose of the changes was to display greater virtuosity. Especially the male dancers get to show off their technique more than heretofore. Not just Franz, the ballet's boyish leading man, but his two principal buddies too, have more solos to dance and do so at full throttle.

Thursday's cast had Jared Nelson as Franz and he was in top form. Fleet, strong and clear, he even avoided rushing the steps. As a character, he seemed always on the go, optimistic and not the best learner of lessons taught. Philandering came to him as naturally as leaping. Jonathan Jordan and Jason Hartley, who were to dance Franz later in the run, were the hero's pals on Thursday. Jordan's tendency was to bring out princely qualities - perhaps this village lad once had the chance to observe the manners of a royal hunting party. Hartley projected bull dog determination.

Swanilda, the heroine of Coppelia, has always been a bravura part. She is required to display all aspects of ballerina technique, and do so playfully. Nothing is omitted, not turns, line, stitch steps, beats, elevation or ground speed. Michele Jimenez, in the role, dispatched all her armamentarium easily and seemed to be enjoying herself. What a lovely dancer she is! As a character, Jimenez's Swanilda was alert and a bit of a pout. Her principal friends, who were also cast in the third act's Dawn and Prayer solos, compact Brianne Bland and the finely articulating Elizabeth Gaither, danced commendably as did Erin Mahoney, who led the Waltz of the Flowers' nice new choreography. (Bland, Gaither and Laura Urgelles were scheduled to be subsequent Swanildas.)

What this bright Coppelia could use is depth. Just a touch or two and not an iota more lest it spoil the fun. The right amount would let some meanings linger in the mind. Swanilda can be more than a pert lass. There is the Alexandra Danilova tradition of doing the role, which showed you a girl growing in wisdom and into womanhood. There was also the look back of Gelsey Kirkland's Swanilda as she and her Franz, Mikhail Baryshnikov, ran out of Dr. Coppelius's loft. What she saw was Coppelius, alone and devastated. Suddenly she realized what she had done to the man.

Coppelius had more than one facet in John Goding's characterization. This doctor was directed to be mean and a fool, and at the end easily placated by money. There can be other dimensions to this character too. If he is seen somewhat seriously, as a man totally possessed by an unattainable idea, he would arouse our pity when that idea is shattered.

The most wonderful moment in a good, traditional Coppelia is when Coppelius sees what he thinks was a mechanical doll take her first breaths. The miracle of life is a moment of quiet in all the excitement, but Genn and Webre's production glosses over it. A little redirection, a change in the musical pacing, can make the difference between a good and a great ballet.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 13
February 9, 2004

© 2004 George Jackson




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last updated on December 29,, 2003