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Coppelia is a charming, elegant dance performance


Boston Ballet.

Music by M. Léo Delibes.

Original Staging by Arthur Saint-Léon.

Choreography by Enrique Martinez.

Wang Center; through Feb. 12.

By Hur Koser
Staff Reporter

This is how the Boston Ballet advertises its newest production: "This is a love story... but it is not exactly Œboy-meets-girl-at-the-mall' type. It is about a girl, a boy and a blonde named ŒCoppélia.' It is a love triangle that spells trouble with a capitol ŒT'. Coppélia is a doll, a real doll with a blonde wig and big enamel eyes. She is a blonde that puts your pulse rate high and your good intentions into reverseŠ"

That is how the Boston Ballet advertises Coppélia. Hearing this ad on the radio, one might get the impression that this is a contemporary dance performance with a conspiring and entangled love story. The story of Coppélia is actually based on "Der Sandmann," a story written by master German storyteller E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822).

It seems that Hoffmann wrote this story in pure fascination for newly-invented mechanical dolls that had come into popularity in the early 19th century. Like his contemporaries, Hoffmann was very much fascinated by the idea of conveying human life, human feelings to an inanimate, lifelike object such as a doll.

The story takes place in a small town and around the town's eccentric inventor, Dr. Coppélius. A pretty girl, whom the townspeople believe to be Dr. Coppélius' daughter, sits on the balcony of her father's mysterious workshop, and seems pretty occupied with the book she is reading.

Swanilda, a beautiful and high-spirited young woman, enters the town square and tries to attract the attention of this strange girl that the townspeople named Coppélia. Much to Swanilda's disappointment, though, Coppélia seems to ignore her. Swanilda's fickle boyfriend Franz also enters the square and, not noticing Swanilda, blows kisses up to Coppélia. Coppélia returns his kiss in a slow yet continuous manner. Overwhelmed with jealousy, Swanilda becomes furious.

After the promise of a handsome dowry from the town's leaders and a feigned display of composure from Swanilda toward Franz's actions, the townspeople dance and rejoice into the night. When the confused Dr. Coppélius drops his workshop key, Swanilda and her friends are tempted to enter the mysterious workshop. In the meantime, Franz decides to satisfy his curiosity about Coppélia and climbs over the workshop balcony with hopes of seeing her.

Swanilda is relieved to find out that Coppélia, as well as other human-like characters sitting in the workshop, is actually no more than a wax doll; but when the furious doctor enters the room, she is forced to disguise herself as the doll Coppélia. In the meantime Franz enters from the balcony, still bearing the hope of seeing beautiful Coppélia. That is when things become even more entertaining, and the lovers achieve a humorous and poignant reconciliation.

Considered the last of the romantic ballets, Coppélia also marked the final ballet created by Arthur Saint-Léon, and coincided with the end of the Second Empire under the rule of Napoleon III. What is more unfortunate, ballerina Adele Grantzow, who was meant to dance as Swanilda, fell ill and had to be replaced in mid-production. The misfortune did not leave the company, and within one year of the ballet's premiere in Paris, not only was Saint-Léon already dead, but also Edouard Dauty who portrayed the mischievous Dr. Coppélius. One more year later, Guiseppina Bozzacchi, who ultimately portrayed Swanilda in the premiere, died of smallpox in the Franco-Prussian War on the morning of her 17th birthday.

Over the years, much of the original choreography of the ballet was preserved at the Paris Opera. Nevertheless, different versions of Coppélia appeared in this century, including a 1933 version by Nicholas Sergeyev, a 1962 interpretation by John Cranko, and a 1970 rendition by Boston Ballet Founder E. Virginia Williams. This time the ballet is being performed as interpreted by the choreographer Enrique Martinez.

"I try to keep it fun because the music is so lively," Martinez said in a press release. He increased the amount of dancing considerably - a wise choice, since the ballet is already teeming with wordless acting - and gave Swanilda seven variations, making her role technically the most difficult. He also added a variation to Franz's role that includes all the tough male ballet steps.

"There are also new characters in my version," admits Martinez. He introduced a priest for the wedding scene, Swanilda's mother, and six boyfriends and six girlfriends who accompany Swanilda and Franz in the first and the third acts.

After the remarkable success of Giselle followed by the traditional Nutcracker, Coppélia promises to mark another great landmark in Boston Ballet's repertoire. Coppélia is a hilarious and cute love story. The story is rather a "girl-gets-the-boy" type, rather than "boy-girl-and-a-blonde" triangle. It may not set your pulse rate very high, but it will definitely touch you somewhere deep inside your soul.

Don't miss this charming, elegant work of art; there really is something for everyone!