The delightful tale of a mad inventor and the life-like doll he creates, The New York Times calls Coppélia “story ballet done to perfection.”
Coppélia, considered one of the greatest comic ballets of the 19th Century, has remained one of the best-loved classical works in the ballet repertory. Originally choreographed by Arthur St. Léon in 1870, restaged by Petipa in 1884, and revised by Cecchetti in 1894, it has been performed regularly since then. None of St. Léon’s original choreography remains in today’s productions, and although Acts I and II have retained his ideas and story, the nature of some of the roles has changed. This staging by Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova — who was considered a definitive Swanilda — also contains the most authentic of the character dances. In Act III, which is totally Balanchine’s, the story becomes secondary, as the village festivities are presented as a series of dances, culminating in an all-encompassing grand finale.
In Coppélia, Delibes, along with Nuitter (who devised the original book from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann) and St. Léon, created a work which remains a model of ballet construction. Delibes was a dancer’s composer, with the gift of illustrating action, creating atmosphere, and inspiring movement in his music. He attempted to do in his music what the impressionists had achieved in painting — make color matter most. The result was the first symphonic ballet score that included melodic national dances, musical descriptions that introduced the main characters, and spectacular effects that held the interest of the audience. The music of Coppélia links two great historical periods of ballet — the French Romantic style and the Russian Classical style.
In 1974, when Balanchine decided to add Coppélia to NYCB’s repertory, he took the opportunity to gently update the ballet, adding some male solos, more pas de deux, and a new third act. He enlisted Danilova to restage the dances she knew so well for the first two acts, and to coach the principal roles, originally performed by Patricia McBride (Swanilda), Helgi Tomasson (Frantz), and Shaun O’Brien (Doctor Coppélius).
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NYCB Founder Lincoln Kirstein on Coppélia >