David Koch Theater, New York, NY; February 23, 2014
‘Coppelia’ is often considered to be ballet’s great comedy. It was first choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon to Delibes’ delightful score in 1870. ‘Coppelia’ premiered in Russia in 1894 with the original Delibes music but new steps by Marius Petipa. A young George Balanchine danced the mazurka in ‘Coppelia’ with the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. Years later (1974) Balanchine restaged ‘Coppelia’ with the help of Alexandra Danilova, a famous Swanilda during her career with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
‘Coppelia’ is one of New York City Ballet’s sunniest productions. It is a great introduction to the ballet for those both young and young-at-heart. ‘Coppelia’ tells the story of Swanilda and her fiancé, Frantz. Frantz falls in love with Coppelia, a doll built by the eccentric Dr. Coppelius.
Frantz breaks into the inventor’s house to see Coppelia and is discovered by Dr. Coppelius. After knocking Frantz out with a potion put in his drink, Dr. Coppelius tries to take Frantz’s life force and use it to make Coppelia come to life. The doctor does not know that who he thinks is Coppelia is actually Swanilda who is wearing Coppelia’s clothes and wig. (She has also broken into the inventor’s house.) By the end of Act II Swanilda awakens Frantz and shows him Coppelia is only a doll. In Act III Swanilda and Frantz are married and the whole village joins in the celebration.
In the all important role of Swanilda Sterling Hyltin sparkles. She is absolutely adorable, so much so that I can’t help liking her no matter how badly she hurts Dr. Coppelius. Hyltin’s comic timing is spot on, especially in Act II when Swanilda is pretending to be the doll Coppelia. Hyltin shows off Swanilda’s mischievous nature as she convinces Dr. Coppelius that Coppelia has really come to life. Her Spanish and Scottish character steps are vivacious and fun. With regard to her dancing, Hyltin stands out for her mercurial footwork and fast turns. She is a little wobbly during the Act III wedding pas de deux, but this does not take away from an overall wonderful performance.
As the somewhat goofy Frantz, who actually falls in love with a mechanical doll, Gonzalo Garcia is very funny. Frantz may not be the smartest lad in the village, but he has a big heart and I can understand why Swanilda loves him. Garcia’s dancing is a bit off in Act I. His leaps lack the elevation Andrew Veyette brings to the same role. In Act III Garcia comes into his own. His ballon is lovely and his double air turns are very well done.
As the elderly Dr. Coppelius, young corps member David Prottas is both amusing and touching. In Act II Prottas’ acting makes it clear that Dr. Coppelius truly believes that Coppelia has come to life. The look on Prottas’ face when Swanilda reveals that she is just pretending to be Coppelia is heartbreaking. As Dr. Coppelius holds the naked limp doll in his arms I really feel sorry for him.
In Act III Meghan Dutton-O’Hara’s Prayer is a real standout. She has a lovely light leap and her extensions are glorious. In Discord and War Cameron Dieck impresses with his soaring leaps. Dieck is a very powerful performer. I definitely hope to see more of him in the future. The biggest applause (and deservedly so) is reserved for the little girls in pink. These School of American Ballet students all have bright futures ahead of them.
The orchestra plays the delicious Delibes score flawlessly. My only complaint is that I had to wait five years to see NYCB’s perfect production of ‘Coppelia’. I think ‘Coppelia’ should be an annual event. This is a family ballet right up there with Balanchine’s ‘Nutcracker’.