Subtlety has never been considered a characteristic of the Bolshoi Ballet. The reputation of the 236-year-old Russian company suggests dance that is flashy, gymnastic, acrobatic, spectacular and, at times, circus-like. Now we can add comedy to the list of attributes as seen in the Bolshoi’s 2009 revival of Coppélia, based on the 1894 Russian rendition by Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti, currently at the Kennedy Center through Sunday afternoon.
And perhaps call this Coppélia – the first feminist ballet, led by the character Swanilda who doesn’t fall for the cad (usually a prince in love with a peasant girl but engaged to a royal) but outwits him. In this story, Franz, a village gadfly, ditches sweetheart Swanilda for a more docile mechanical doll created by Dr. Coppelius. Swanilda responds by turning the doc’s workshop into a shambles, and wins back her errant lover.
Every sleepy little village needs a live wire to keep its townspeople awake, especially if the main shop in town belongs to a old disillusioned dollmaker. Enter Swanilda and you know right from her first solo dance that this is the lass who keeps the town percolating.
In the opening program (repeated Friday evening and the closing matinee), Nina Kaptsova delighted both young and old with her quick steps and her comedic touches. However you can surely count on Maria Aleksandrova (tonight and Saturday evening) or Anastesia Stashkevich (Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon) to carry on the banner of this feisty feminist.
Swanilda is one of Nina Kaptsova’s best roles. It brings out her vivacity and flair for comedy as well as her fine classical technique. She sparkled on stage throughout the three acts, never faltering in her multiple pirouettes or pique turns or high-flying jetes, all danced to the gorgeous music by Leo Delibes.
Most times, the plot is humorous, but when Alexey Loparevich portrays his sensitive interpretation of Dr. Coppelius’ hopes for a real daughter in lieu of the doll, you want to scream at the frantic behavior of the girls as they romp in the attic where the dolls are stored. Here the wretched old man takes on a humane, caring characterization.
Thanks to Swanhilda’s daring and imagination, her boyfriend Franz (Artem Ovcharenko) sees his mistake and marries the heroine in a wedding celebration of dance. Ovcharenko appeared as buoyant as the character he plays.
What makes the silly story work is the dedication to detail of previous versions with new choreography added by Sergei Vikharev – who researched the early beginnings of Coppélia at the Harvard University Library. From an historical point, Act II is quite significant. Not only are the gestures – from Petipa’s staging – fascinating, but the choice of dolls – the romantic Moorish slave or man from the Orient, dueling fencers, a harlequin, the beautiful ballerina – make it truly authentic.
Led by new Artistic Director Sergei Filin, one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s former stars, this Coppélia provides much more opportunity for character dancing and colorful variations. It’s especially evident in the third act Wedding Scene where most of the dancing was grand, especially the Mazurkas and Czardas. Loved the colorful costumes, boots and head pieces by Tatiana Noginova. Kudos too to the lighting designer Damir Ismagilov and whoever created those huge sets to make the Bolshoi (which means big) appear even bigger.
Throughout the ballet, music director Igor Dronov kept the dancing brisk and clear, at least on opening night. And it is this lush, multi-layered score that remains most vivid. We do, indeed, leave this production humming the music with some folks seen waltzing down the aisles.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including two 20 minute intermissions.