Friday, May 24, 2013

Coppélia's comeback

Swanilda teaches old Coppelius a lesson about living dolls.  Photos: Rosalie O'Connor.

Few ballets are as lovable as Coppélia, particularly in the Balanchine version, which Boston Ballet is reviving through this weekend at the Opera House.  Not that the great Mr. B really investigates the quirky subtexts of the ballet's libretto - which was inspired by one of the darker musings of E.T.A. Hoffmann, that peculiar font of nineteenth-century fantasy who's also the source of The Nutcracker and, of course, Offenbach's Tales from Hoffmann.

Indeed, the ballet all but ignores the darker corners of its source, and instead conjures a straightforward folk tale about a foolish village stud named Frantz (Jeffrey Cirio) who has fallen hard for the perfections of the mechanical Coppélia, the handiwork of nutty professor Dr. Coppélius (Boyko Dossev).

Never fear, saucy flesh-and-blood Swanilda (Misa Kuranaga, above with Dossev), Frantz's former squeeze, is on hand to shake him out of his delusion (even though she mostly shakes up the dotty old Coppélius instead). And the couple is happily re-united at the finale in a wedding scene that's lavish even by Balanchine's grandest standards. Perhaps that's because this extended divertissement is the only part of the ballet that's pure Mr. B - the rest is a gloss on earlier work by St. Léon, Petipa, and Cecchetti (although in several set-pieces, such as the peasant dance in Act I, we can feel hints of the master's mature complexity).

Cirio and Kuranaga triumph in the last act.
Until then though, I admit, Coppélia sometimes feels like a gentle, conventional entertainment; but it's obvious why the Ballet has revived it - in Kuranaga and Dossev they have the perfect dancers for Coppélia and her creator, and it's wonderful to see both of them dazzle us again, just as they did in the Ballet's mounting three years ago. (It's particularly good to see Dossev, probably the Ballet's wittiest comic actor, in a lead role after months of laboring in the corps). 

And they're joined this time around by the Ballet's go-to leading man, Jeffrey Cirio, who makes Frantz's youthful innocence believable, and hangs onto a shining technical finish even through his final cabrioles and double tours.

As for the third-act finale, it seemed to me even more ravishing than it had in 2010.  The luminous Adiarys Almeida elegantly (and effortlessly) wrangled twenty-four adorable little ballerinas in the "Waltz of the Golden Hours" (one beaming little girl for each hour, I guess!), while Rie Ichikawa (whom we don't see enough of these days either) brought an intriguing touch of wistfulness to her invocation of the Dawn. Meanwhile Ashley Ellis and Sylvia Deaton essayed confident, poised turns as Prayer and Spinning (hinting, I suppose, at what Swanilda can look forward to in married life).  But the surprise of the evening was that Balanchine's wackiest gambit, the over-the-top "battle" between "War" and "Discord" that interrupts the wedding like a summer storm, proved one of the most compelling moments in the performance.  Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili seemed unfazed by their wild costumes (which as I've said before look like something Cher might wear to the Oscars) and brought off a delightfully athletic - and competitive - gambol, with spears held relentlessly (if somewhat ridiculously) aloft.  Then Frantz and Swanilda returned for their own triumphant variations, which when you're talking about Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga basically means a face-off between two dancers whose peerless technique is always sourced in emotions that poor, mechanical Coppélia could never match.

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