by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Since its 1870 premiere at the Théâatre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris, Coppélia has become a staple in the classical ballet canon. Pennsylvania Ballet first performed the work in 1978, making it the company’s first full-length ballet, and has mounted a new production which will give its third and final performance next Sunday afternoon at the Academy of Music.
While nineteenth-century storybook ballets such as Coppélia may seem to have little relevance for twenty-first century theater goers, they offer an escape: a glimpse into an idealized, bucolic world full of budding romance, mistaken identities and fairytale endings. Coppélia gave the audience, which teemed with families and their young would-be ballerinas, this much and more on Saturday night complete with lavish sets and charming costumes designed by José Varona and choreography based on the original work by Marius Petipa.
Principal dancer Lauren Fadeley was splendid as the mischievous young Swanilda; she was coy at times and flirtatious at others, drawing us into the world of the mysterious toymaker Dr. Coppélius and his troublesome life-sized doll, played with insanely perfect posture by Cassidy Hall. Petipa’s choreography, though nearly 150 years old, pushed Fadeley to her limits: attitude turns that melted into beautiful arabesques, comical Spanish and Scottish variations in the workshop of Dr. Coppélius and finally foutté turns spotting all four sides of the stage. She danced the role beautifully, displaying both a penchant for comedy and for the dramatic pantomime required of nineteenth-century ballet.
Fadeley’s husband, Francis Veyette, endowed the role of Franz with both bravura and humor but it was Jeffrey Gribler as the eccentric Dr. Coppélius whose bumbling antics left the audience in stitches. Still, the adagio performed by Fadeley and Veyette in their Wedding Pas de Duex was nothing short of spectacular, with Fadeley maintaining a gorgeous développé à la seconde —and a beautiful smile—throughout successive turns before finally diving behind Veyette for the final pose.
Brooke Moore and Rachel Maher gave excellent performances in the third act but Caralin Curcio looked uncomfortable (then again, their three solos appeared out of nowhere and made little sense in the overall narrative). The corps, dancing in red boots as the village residents, gave a spirited performance that was part Russian folk dance, part Bavarian frolic, and the dolls of Dr. Coppélius’s eerily decorated workshop made for good fun if you’re willing to overlook Petipa’s portrayal of finger pointing “Chinese” dance.
The production outdid itself at the conclusion of the third act, presenting the newly married couple in an elaborate carriage drawn—believe it or not—by a real live horse. Although there is little avant-garde about ballets such as Coppélia, they read extremely well on Pennsylvania Ballet, which celebrates its fifty anniversary this year, and it seems a great shame that Philadelphia’s will have only one final chance to see Fadeley’s enchanting performance.
***Cover photo credit: Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Coppélia, Photo: Alexander Iziliaev