Ashley Thursby with Harald Uwe Kern in Coppélia. Photo:Josh Mauser from KERTIS Creative
Music by Léo Delibes
Choreography by Robert Curran
A review by Samantha Morrison
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Samantha Morrison. All rights reserved.
The much-loved ballet Coppélia, presented by the Louisville Ballet, once again took the audience on a fantasy time trip last night. An old and much-cherished tale of young lovers and a slightly demented toymaker in the hands of Robert Curran takes on additional depth and Louisville history.
The audience knows immediately that this fairytale has taken a decidedly modernist turn as soon as the curtain rises. Jacob Heustus’ sets consist of subtle toned vertical slabs which pulse with angular, cubist shapes, graphic black gestures, and a sky full of newsprint reporting on a world in frightening transition. The sets create the energy of a city growing quickly and somewhat haphazardly. Familiar landmarks like the Water Tower help orient the viewer to Louisville. This isn’t Chicago’s broad-shouldered, industrialized city but it is a transportation hub on the river whose importance is changing and expanding on the brink of war. Germantown, the background for our story, is a busy, growing community populated by Kentuckians and German immigrants entering a time of difficult transition before World War I. The stage sets are the subdued palette of Braque and the Armory Show of 1913, but the color is brilliantly added by the dancer’s beautiful, autumnal-hued costumes designed by Dan Fedie.
Curran describes the contrasts and energy of the city in the first act mainly through a series of dances that portray the various Germantown populations, especially the men. It is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the skills and athleticism of the male dancers in the company, all of whom performed well. From young mischievous boys playfully tormenting the soldiers to the emerging troublesome gangs and of course the soldiers from Camp Zachary Taylor, the various groups not only begin the narration but also hint at the underlying malevolent undercurrents of the story.
The soldier’s dance is particularly impressive, full of male posturing and bravura. Mark Krieger’s height and physicality make him an imposing Franz, our leading man of the story. It was a perfect balance of youthful, cock-strutting, and the embrace of militaristic attitudes. In addition, the gang’s confrontation with Dr. Coppéliius, played wonderfully by Harald Uwe Kern, illustrates the dark troubled mess of a world in conflict.
Keeping all this testosterone in balance is the beautiful Ashley Thursby, our Swanhilde, a spunky leading lady who not only stands up for herself when faced with a fickle fiancé but fights for her man with wily courage. What could be better theatre! She and her circle of friends bring color and light to the whole story, as do the lively folk dancers. Curran gives a nod of respect to the choreography of Petipa in a spirited, kick up your heels, folk dance that also pays homage to the German heritage of the community.
The audience gasped when the curtain rose on Act Two. Dr Coppelius’ shop is both scary and playful. The six toys, which spring to action, are wonderfully conceived, never gruesome or macabre, but clearly the product of a troubled mind. Most children attending the performance will delight in the comic portrayal of the toys. The well-acted characterization of the girl’s tentatively exploring the space is fun and charming and sets up the more threatening Dr. Coppelius’ entry perfectly.
Artistic Director, Robert Curran has been challenging all of us to find the transcendent moments in our lives and experiences. That moment came in this ballet in Act Three. For me, the final act of ballets can, at times, be kind of a throwaway. The story is resolved, we will have a marriage party or ball and everyone gets a solo and some fun lively dances. Last night the lyrical Ms. Thursby raised the bar to transcendent in the pas de deux with Mr. Krieger. It is a most beautiful pas de deux and was danced exquisitely leaving this ballet lover breathless. It was a magnificent ending to a lovely night of ballet.
Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 PM
Friday, October 7 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, October 8 at 2:00 PM
Saturday, October 8 at 8:00 PM
315 West Broadway
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Samantha Morrison is a special contributor to Arts-Louisville.com. She is an artist, writer, and curator with over twenty years of experience in the visual and performing arts in the Midwest and Kentucky.