Here’s looking at you

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  April 30, 2010

Like the finales of Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, act three of Coppélia is a set of divertissements followed by a pas de deux for the happy couple. It hasn’t enjoyed the same success, however — almost as soon as the ballet was first presented, the Festival of the Bell was subjected to cuts, and some contemporary Coppélias, like the Paris Opera’s, scrap the third act altogether. This Balanchine/Danilova version — which Boston Ballet is the first American company outside NYCB to perform — restores the original concept. It’s a preview of village life for the many newlyweds (six of Swanilda’s friends are also getting married): 24 student girls representing the hours of the day (Delibes’s delectable “Waltz of the Hours”); ballerinas representing Dawn, Prayer, and Work (as in spinning); the sudden appearance of Discord and War (the Franco-Prussian War broke out just two months after Coppélia’s premiere); the restoration of Peace (a pas de deux for Frantz and Swanilda); and then the rousing circus finale.

Boston Ballet’s sets, which the company acquired from Pacific Northwest Ballet, don’t look very different from those of its previous production, in 1995, which were borrowed from American Ballet Theatre. The façade of Swanilda’s ocher-colored “cottage” suggests a Venetian scuola; a belltower is topped with an onion dome; Coppélius’s workshop is big and spooky, with ghostly trees outside. Given the locale (Carpathian — not Spanish — Galicia, an area now divided between Ukraine and Poland), it’s no surprise to find a troupe of dancers doing the Polish mazurka and the Hungarian csárdás. It is disconcerting to see a grandee in a Napoleonic hat and a banner in French proclaiming “La Fête de la Cloche” — this may be Balanchine’s homage to the original Paris production, but it’s confusing.

Of the company’s three Swanildas, Misa Kuranaga was the most doll-like last weekend, exaggeratedly innocent and indignant in the first act, sly and subversive (even hinting at the Bride of Chucky) in the second, and then moving into hyperdrive in the third, with insouciant traveling steps on pointe and a whipping manège. It’s an unnerving, Hoffmann-like interpretation that asks how much difference there is between the doll that’s alive and the one that isn’t. Erica Cornejo and Melissa Hough were more natural and Giselle-like, Cornejo light and free and blossoming in her third-act pas de deux with James Whiteside (think Tony and Maria in West Side Story), Hough more nubile and with greater amplitude, each teasing seductive phrases out of her third-act variation.

Dancing with Cornejo Friday evening, Whiteside projected the clearest and most sympathetic Frantz as he mimed a guy who’s attracted to this girl and, well, that one, too, and then looked to the audience for help. He’s big in a way that registers, and he underlines the comic nature of the role — as when, at the end of the first act, Frantz runs on with the ladder that he’ll use to climb to Coppélia’s balcony. Jaime Diaz was partnered with Hough on Saturday afternoon; his characterization didn’t quite have Whiteside’s detail, but his cabrioles might have been even bigger, and the double tours landing in second were brought off with panache. Nelson Madrigal, as Kuranaga’s Frantz, did not have a good outing opening night. He was an attentive partner, his first-act cabrioles (in the brief solo Balanchine created to give Frantz more dancing) were gratifying, and he’s a strong lifter. In the third act, though, the cabrioles deteriorated, the landings became heavy, and the double tours were barely suggested.

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  Topics: Dance , Boston Ballet Orchestra, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Whitney Jensen,  More more >
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