|| The Patriot Ledger
|| April 10, 2010
|| Iris Fanger
Like the search for the Holy Grail, ballet companies the world over have sought a spring-time production equal to “The Nutcracker” to bring in audiences and guaranteed income. The Boston Ballet has struck pay dirt with George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova’s “Coppelia,” which opened Thursday at The Boston Opera House.
I encourage all grown-ups to take the children to this production. It’s loaded with kid-friendly appeal.
A teenager testing her intelligence, courage and spunk as she matures into a woman? Check.
A production filled with a colorful variety of dancing? Check.
A troupe of little children to steal the show? The doll, Coppelia, who comes to life, impersonated by Swanilda, the ballerina? Check and check again.
The Boston Ballet has mounted productions of “Coppelia” before, but none stuffed with so much succulent choreography. One has only to marvel at the innovative twists to the lively folk dance passages of the first act mazurka and czardas to realize how Balanchine improved the work.
The original ballet by Arthur Saint-Leon dates to 1870 at the Paris Opera. It was transformed by Marius Petipa for St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet troupe before 1900, and restaged by Balanchine and Danilova for New York City Ballet in 1974. Balanchine remembered performing in the Act I folk dance when he was in Russia, and Madame Danilova was considered the quintessential Swanilda throughout her career with the Ballets Russes.
“Coppelia” is also blessed by Leo Delibes’ melodic ballet score, delivered with punch and verve by the Boston Ballet orchestra, conducted by Jonathan McPhee. The string section was especially strong in the virtuoso passages accompanying the pas de deux.
The multiple gold-medal winner, Misa Kuranaga, promoted this season to principal dancer, has found her dream role as Swanilda. From the moment the ballet begins, she demands our adoring attention for her joyous solo of discovery and mischievous plotting. In the first act, she shares the stage with the figure of Coppelia, seated on a balcony above the village square. Both of them are infused with youthful beauty, but Swanilda’s blood runs with the life force, embodied by the lightness and swiftness that underlines Kuranaga’s mastery of ballet technique. Doll-like herself in appearance, tiny with wide eyes and an effervescent manner, she effortlessly combines the mime and movement demands of the role, and also the needed stamina to carry the work for three acts.
Nelson Madrigal as Franz, her fiancé who is infatuated with the waxen Coppelia, is more an oaf than a romantic lead, although the dancer delivered a good accounting in his space-devouring solos. However, his pinning of a lively butterfly to his lapel as a joke is cringe-inducing even though it’s a traditional part of the characterization. Madrigal is also a strong partner to Swanilda, whom he hoists on his shoulders and catches when she flies into his arms in the pas de deux, but his role is an after-thought, compared with that of Swanilda.
Boyko Dossev as the cantankerous Dr. Coppelius gave a warm and human twist to the comic old man in his eagerness to win his creation’s love in Act II when Swanilda, who has invaded his workshop, dresses as Coppelia and pretends to come to life. Whitney Jensen, the teenage newcomer to the corps de ballet, gave the most convincing supporting performance as Spinner, one of the Act III variations.
Saving the best for last, let’s not forget the impression made by the dozens of little girls from the Boston Ballet School who solemnly marched on for the third act Waltz of the Golden Hours, and remained to back the solo variations with precision. Excellently trained and totally focused, they represent the promise of the next generation, charged to carry on the ballet traditions that crossed the Atlantic with Balanchine and Danilova. Congratulations to Judith Fugate, a noted Swanilda in her time, who set the work on the Boston Ballet, and to the company for endowing it with zest and beauty.
COPPELIA Performed by the Boston Ballet at the Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Through April 18, $25-$132. www.bostonballet.org.