Coppélia: The Ideal Introduction to Ballet

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

FSBT presents the comic production April 18 & 19

If Letterman had a Top 10 List of “Best Artistic Genre Mash-Ups,” First State Ballet Theatre’s (FSBT) production of Coppélia could be number one. The ballet, which runs in Wilmington the weekend of April 18-19, mixes hilarious physical comedy with exhilarating choreography and dazzling costumes from one of Russia’s finest costumiers.

“Coppélia is near the top of virtually every list of the world’s favorite ballets,” says FSBT President and Executive Director Robert Grenfell. “It can be understood and appreciated by audiences of all ages.”

Originally choreographed by Arthur St. Léon in 1870, Coppélia is considered one of the greatest comic ballets of the 19th century and has remained one of the best-loved classical works in the ballet repertory.

Based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the story begins as village “Romeo” Franz becomes obsessed with the life-size creation of doll maker Dr. Coppélius. Thinking the doll is a real girl, Franz flirts with her, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Swanilda. Of course, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Swanilda—with the help of Coppélius—disguises herself as the doll in an elaborate and riotous joke on Franz.

Played out onstage, the story is the perfect narrative for a ballet, observes Leonid Goykhman, who dances the role of Franz. There is plenty of physical comedy, especially for Franz, who spends nearly an entire act being kicked, slapped and flung around by the collar. “Portraying comedy can be difficult, particularly because the physical humor must look natural and not ‘over-choreographed,’” he says. “They may look easy on stage, but the comedic scenes require just as much rehearsal as the dancing.”

Rie Aoki, who dances the role of Swanilda, agrees that comedy in ballet can be challenging. “Because it can’t be just about the humor,” she says. “It has to be a great ballet performance, too.” Aoki describes Swanilda as a young, fun, super-active girl with lots of attitude. “She dances with quick steps, tons of jumps. She’s a powerful girl; I’m enjoying her so much.”

“If you’ve never seen a ballet, I would highly recommend making Coppélia the first,” says Goykhman. “It will dispel many preconceived notions; [I hope] people will see ballet does not have to be serious or tragic, and they’ll enjoy the clever melding of dance, music and story.”

Adds Aoki: “I’d love for audiences to see it with a light heart, not too serious. Just laugh and enjoy all the silly characters.”

First State Ballet Theatre chose Coppélia because it is both the perfect comic masterpiece and an ideal springtime performance, according to Grenfell. “And it’s a ballet for the whole family — one that will delight everyone from 3 to 103.” The production follows three very dramatic pieces presented earlier in FSBT’s season — Giselle, The Young Lady and the Hooligan and Carmen.

Coppélia runs Saturday, April 18, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 19, at 2 p.m. at The Grand Opera House. Tickets range from $28-$48; tickets are half-price for students age 18 and under. Seniors, groups and military personnel receive $5 off their ticket price. Tickets are available here.

First State Ballet Theatre, Delaware’s professional ballet company, presents full-length ballets, mixed-repertory productions and major new works from acclaimed international choreographers. The company performs in all three counties in Delaware. For more information, click here.

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