Image courtesy of Louisville Ballet
Music by Léo Delibes
Choreography by Robert Curran, after Arthur Saint-Leon , Marius Petite, & Dame Nanette de Valois
Review by Valerie Canon
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Valerie Canon. All rights reserved
Louisville Ballet opened its season with a new take on an old classic. Departing from the usual generic-European-village setting, Artistic Director Robert Curran chose to set the ballet in Louisville’s Germantown at the turn of the 20th century. The first and third act sets were clever abstract city scenes, designed by Jacob Heustis to look like building-sized excerpts of Louisville’s original German-language newspapers.
The costumes designed by Dan Fedie were lovely and historically accurate, though not the most flattering for the female dancers. Though it was obviously representative of an autumn season (and perhaps the feel of a vintage photograph), a more varied color palette also would have been welcome.
The Louisville Orchestra, conducted by Charles Barker, did ample justice to the beautiful score. The choreography was very true to the original by Arthur Saint-Léon. Mr. Curran did make a few notable updates such as softening Swanhilde, a character perfectly performed by Erica De La O. Swanhilde is traditionally a bratty character with little regard for anyone but herself, but in this production she has a new level of depth that is heartwarming.
In the first act, on the audience right side of the stage there is a window where it appears a young girl, Coppélia, Olivia Hagen, is sitting. We later find out Coppélia is a doll. This window is actually a screen where a video of Coppélia and her creator, Dr. Coppélius, Harald Uwe Kern, is shown, creating a surprising, and magical effect.
The second act is truly the highlight of the performance. The dolls in Dr. Coppélius’ shop are amazingly creepy with overly large heads. The depiction of Attila the Hun, Queen Victoria, Romani Gypsy, Otto Von Bismark, Napoleon, Bisque, and Unfinished Doll (Ryan Stokes, Shelby Shenkman, Lexa Daniels, Eduard Forehand, Justin Michael Hogan, Benjamin Wetzel, and Mark Krieger respectively), were incredible both visually, through costuming, and in their movement. It is disappointing that the program lacks a specific credit for the designer/craftsman of the doll heads.
While the acting throughout the ballet was spot-on, the quality was really on display in Act II. Swanhilde and her friends (Kateryna Sellers, Emily Reinking O’Dell, Helen Daigle, Ashley Thursby, Jordan Martin, and Christy Corbitt Miller) at the top of the act are hilarious. As Sophie (Christy Corbitt Miller) leaves Dr. Coppélius’ shop, she steals the scene with a signal hand that had the audience in stitches. Ms. De La O, having traded places with Coppélia, performs as the doll with a humor not traditionally seen in this role. Her eye movements and gestures during the dance where Dr. Coppélius is convinced he is bringing his doll to life were superb. Every time he turns his back she gives the impression of not understanding how he can be so gullible. Her acting is brilliant, as is her dancing, which is plentiful. At the end of the second act, it is revealed to Dr. Coppélius that his doll has not come to life. He dances with his Coppélia doll hanging limp in his arms while his other dolls dance around him. Kern’s Dr. Coppélius was both entertaining and heartbreaking. You could empathize with him in his loneliness and, as seen at the end of the second act, his disillusionment. Swanhilde’s reaction to seeing his despair is gut wrenching, causing this audience member to shed a tear or two.
The first and third acts felt disjointed. The dances seemed designed to fill the music and lacked cohesiveness of a continuous story line. In the third act there is wedding dancing, all of which appears to be the original and traditional choreography. Dawn, a vaudeville sensation performed by Leigh Anne Albrechta, was a very nicely executed variation, but the original choreography kept it dry and boring. A little vaudeville flair would have been much more enjoyable and appropriate. Hope, a Camp Taylor nurse, performed adeptly by Natalia Ashikmina, was likewise in need of new choreography to express the gravity of a nurse who spends her days tending to injured and dying soldiers. The wedding pas de deux of Swanhilde and Franz was beautiful and technically sound. Kristopher Wojtera and Erica De La O are always wonderful partnered together; their chemistry is undeniable. There is a distinct lack of resolve with Dr. Coppélius, as he does not make an appearance in the third act. In most productions Swanhilde offers an apology by giving Dr. Coppélius her dowry. While it is understandable that that would not work within this production, perhaps another way to incorporate Dr. Coppélius could have been found.
As a whole, it was a nice evening at the ballet. The dancing was lovely and well performed and the updated Coppélia seemed to be a step in the right direction for a new take on an old standard. Perhaps with all new choreography it would have been a fully brilliant, new production. As is, it fell just short of revived perfection.
October 2, 2015 @ 8 PM
October 3, 2015 @ 2 PM & 8 PM
The W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
Valerie Canon is an actor, director, dancer, model, and choreographer based in the Greater Louisville area. Mrs. Canon received her BFA in ballet performance from Oklahoma University in 2004, and has performed in ballets around the country as a principal, soloist, and corps de ballet member. She recently directed Broadway’s Greatest Love Songs: Unhindered and Ungendered, which premiered at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in January, 2015.