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‘Coppélia’ enchants the young and the young-at-heart

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Anticipation ran high on opening night of PNB’s "Coppélia," the first full-length design commission for the company in seven years.

The last time audiences had seen the ballet performed (a version by Kent Stowell) was back in 1999.

This time, they were treated to a new production, designed by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, with choreography by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova.

And it was apparent by the enthusiastic response, that this whimsical and effervescent version is a definite crowd pleaser.

"Coppélia" is a story ballet, with a tale that delights young and old.

There’s a pair of young lovers, Swanilda and Franz, whose relationship is briefly threatened by Franz’s attraction to Coppelia, a mechanical doll created by the town’s eccentric toymaker, Dr. Coppelius.

After some mayhem and mischief occur within the doctor’s workshop, the truth comes out that Coppelia is simply a lifeless toy. The lovers reunite and the final act depicts the day of their wedding, with a series of performances to entertain the guests.

On opening night, Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta danced the roles of the lovers Swanilda and Franz.

The two gifted artists made an enchanting pairing, as they are perfectly matched in technical skill and performance abilities.

Each fully inhabited their personas, with Nakamura, a perky and impish Swanilda, and Poretta, a swaggering, boyish Franz.

Their pas de deux in the third act was sweet and gentle, with lovely lifts, making Nakamura appear light as a feather.

The two also exchanged a series of energetic solos that left the audience breathless. Porretta, in particular, wowed the crowd with his soaring jumps, impressive leaps and dizzying turns.

A special treat on opening night was PNB Artistic Director Peter Boel, as Dr. Coppelius – a role he successfully embodied with qualities to make the mysterious toymaker both a comic and tragic figure.

The corps de ballet did a fine job, with the exception of a few bobbles in the first act.

Of special note were the 24 young PNB students in pink tutus, with radiant smiles, who performed Balanchine’s elegant choreography to perfection.

They helped deepen the magic of this fairytale ballet, along with the storybook sets, which looked like they were made of candy.

And the sublime costumes in spun sugar colors sparkled in Randall G. Chiarelli’s artful lighting.

Kudos to designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno for creating an enchanting world of whimsy, where dancers shined and Léo Delibes’ infectious and joyous music came to life under the able baton of conductor Nathan Fifield.

"Coppélia" is a wondrous new addition to PNB’s repertory. Make sure to catch it the next time it comes around.

For tickets and information about PNB’s 2010-2011 season, which includes productions of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," "Giselle," "Cinderella," a world premiere by Marco Goecke, and works by Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato, Jerome Robbins, Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and others, contact (206) 441-2424 or www.pnb.org.

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