Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA; March 8, 2014
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
Arriving at the Academy of Music on the first day that the spring weather appeared in Philadelphia, it was a delight to see the fleets of little girls in their best dresses filling the theater with enthusiasm and anticipation of watching “Coppélia”. There was that added thrill in the audience that can be felt only when the excitement of children is an element.
The curtain opens on an amazingly elaborate village scene. On the balcony of Dr. Coppélius’ workshop is his beautiful Coppélia doll (Marjorie Feiring), sitting frozen like she is reading a book. Scattered lights come on in the village house windows in unison with various high points in Delibes’ music, played by the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra. The effect was really magical and captured the audience’s interest immediately.
Jonathan Stiles’ Dr. Coppélius was a remarkably played character who enchanted the audience. His first appearance on stage in the village square is to blow a kiss to his doll. His costume is perfect, Stiles really did look like an endearing mad man of sorts; an amazing caricature he maintained throughout the performance.
From her first steps on stage the beautiful Lillian Di Piazza, as Swanilda, was a charming to watch in a masterpiece performance. She was just a glowing, happy, playful heroine who captured everyone’s hearts with her big eyes, ruby red lips and amazing dancing. Her every movement, facial expression and gesture was so coquettish and adorable it was almost hard to remember she was simultaneously performing an intense and technically challenging two hour ballet. As Franz, Jong Suk Park’s interplay with Di Piazza was rich and captivating. They were quite funny and her pretense of scorn resulting from his attentions on Coppélia, rather than her, was amusing and charming.
The Villagers’ costumes are bright and lavish: the women in gorgeous green flowing skirts and corseted blouses, and the men in matching pants and shirts. Their red boots highlighted their amazing czardas and mazurkas. As one of their number, Rachel Maher danced well with Suk Park, including some amazingly high turning lifts and battements that made it seem as if she was flying. It was really stunning. She captured the light and bright nature of the ballet with her facial expressions and joy. A favorite moment was when the male dancers formed a circle with their arms, the women resting peacefully on them swinging their legs slowly in unison as if riding swings. It was quite sweet. The Mayor (Lorin Mathis) was appropriately robust as the village politician.
After Dr. Coppélius had locked his workshop for the evening, the show of him being taunted by the young men of the village was wonderful. Swanilda’s female friends were an utter enchantment; playful and perfect in their performance. When they entered Dr. Coppélius’ workshop with her after finding the Doctor’s lost key in the village, it felt like the audience was biting their nails as they crept through his doorway one-by-one holding hands.
Act II proved to be my favorite. Dr. Coppélius’ workshop, full of his curios and treasures, was absolutely stunning. It is dark – and frankly a little scary! Shapes of spooky harlequin dolls hang from the ceiling. There are dimly lit chandeliers, and a faux fire burning in one corner. Di Piazza’s reaction after going to open the curtain to Coppélia’s hiding place was adorable as she ran back to her friends, covering her eyes, her knees shaking dramatically. There was a peal of laughter in the audience. After Swanilda becomes convinced that Coppélia is, in fact, a doll, and the girls uncover the other dolls in the workshop, who all dance about, the scene was one of fun and excitement. All the dolls costumes were enrapturing and a little eerie as they danced hidden behind their large masks.
When Suk Park as Franz appeared via the balcony window, the audience gasped. My favorite part of the performance came now, as I watched the interaction between Di Piazza’s Coppélia/Swanilda and Stiles’ Dr. Coppélius. Di Piazza could not have done a better job. She was perfectly coy and mischievous as she danced for him in the intricate and beautiful Chinese, Spanish and Russian variations. She truly looked like she was having an immensely fun time and drew the entire audience in with her. Her dancing was impeccable and precise. I could not have enjoyed these pieces more. Each time she seemed to accidentally slap Dr. Coppélius or knock her book out of his hand the audience laughed. It was so much fun. One’s eyes really did not leave the stage for an instant. Stiles’ responses to Di Piazza’s teasing were equally comedic and enthralling. Of course, there is moment of true sadness for the Doctor when Swanilda reveals her trickery. Stiles drew the audience in with him in his disappointment.
In Act III, which features the Festival of the Bells and the wedding of Franz and Swanilda, Jeffrey Gribler’s Priest was amusing and made everyone with laugh with his brief ceremony of wedding vows. The Waltz of the Hours was really whimsical and joyous and showed the Pennsylvania Ballet corps to its capacity. It was really a pleasure to see them all enjoying themselves so much. A really beautiful stunning series of lifts just filled up the stage; one of the best moments being six female dancers were lifted one by one and carried off stage high on the shoulder of each’s partner like they were flying. The audience loved this although, sadly, the last pair did not quite make the lift completely. Evelyn Kocak as Dawn was quite lovely and her solo very pretty. She performed a nice piqué turn set but was just a little imprecise as she departed the stage. Brooke Adams danced Prayer in a beautiful blue costume that flowed in a divine way that highlighted her striking feet and legs. Her beautiful bourrées and port de bras were wonderful. I only wish she could have looked a little more jovial. As Spinner, Holly Lynn Fusco’s series of intricate jumps on pointe were carried off quite well, in yet another gorgeous and elegant costume.
The final pas de deux is demanding, but Suk Park and Di Piazza were stunning. I was getting a little nervous myself, wondering whether or not she would have the stamina to finish the ballet. But barring those few moments when their arms shook holding on to each other as she tried to let go for a balance, both dancers’ endurance and beauty was impressive. A series of promenades were awesome, and Suk Park’s partnering was always impressive partnering. During Di Piazza’s solo, there was a moment when her eye seemed to catch that of an audience member in the front row, her face lighting up as she found the energy she needed to conclude her amazing performance. She is really a treasure and it was so fun to watch a dancer who is such a great performer, and who enjoys such chemistry with the audience. The closing series of fouetté turns were outstanding from both dancers.
The finale was a lovely. What could have been more perfect than having Swanilda and Franz enter the final celebration than in a carriage covered with flowers and drawn by a real pony? There was an astounding sense of glee throughout the audience as the applause erupted.
I could not have enjoyed Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of “Coppélia” more. The sets and the costumes in this magical storytelling were really perfect, and I was so happy to have seen Lillian Di Piazza perform as Coppélia. She was an enchantment.