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Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia: A Perfect Spring Romp

April 18, 2016

The perfect way to usher in the warm summer months is a viewing of the joyful, whimsical romp that is Pacific Northwest Ballet’s rendition of George Balanchine’s Coppélia.

Romantic comedy and the trope of a love triangle is not unfamiliar territory, and the story of Coppélia puts a unique spin on that tradition — even though it premiered nearly 150 years ago.

The ballet introduces the audience to a Galician village, the exact geographic placement of which remains ambiguous. Even before the dancers take the stage, the opulent, detailed scenery of the town square and the light-hearted orchestration garner applause from the audience.

We soon meet Swanilda and Franz, two young lovers who seem to comically butt heads more than they actually get along. Part of this is due to the fact that Franz, played by Jonathan Porretta, is also attracted to the mysterious Coppélia: the daughter of the town inventor Dr. Coppelius (acted with stumbling, bumbling perfection by Ezra Thomson), who sits all day on her balcony with her nose stuck in a book. Noelani Pantastico, as Swanilda, is visibly jealous of the unsociable Coppélia, especially after she spies the bookworm somewhat mechanically blowing her beloved Franz a kiss.

After seeing her tackle the heart-wrenching portrayal of Juliet in PNB’s Romeo et Juliette, it was refreshing to see Pantastico step — or rather stomp — into the role as the stubborn, adventurous Swanilda, and she showed off both her talents for comedy and mastery of Balanchine’s technical choreography.

The leads were not the only dancers given a challenge in Balanchine’s interpretation of Delibes’ score. The corps de ballet, taking the stage as various villagers, are tasked with performing intricate mazurkas and folk dances, which they do with buoyant energy and commendable technique. PNB’s costume designers also deserve kudos, as each piece on every dancer’s ensemble is lavishly embroidered in charming pastel colors, complementing the scenery and joyful music.

While Franz and Swanilda take part in the dances, even the celebratory attitude of the villagers cannot pluck Swanilda from her taciturn mood, as Franz fails time and again to convince her of his affection, since he so clearly is fascinated by Coppélia.

As it turns out, Coppélia is not a real contender for Franz’s affections. The driving dramatic irony of the ballet is the fact that Coppélia is just a doll. This is made apparent to the audience early on, but the poor dancers on stage have to find out the hard way, providing amusing and sometimes awkwardly laughable moments for the audience.

A special treat in PNB’s performance of Coppélia is the inclusion of a number of young ballerinas from the PNB School. They leap onto the stage as part of the corps in beautiful platter tutus, taking part in the celebration during the last act once Swanilda has decided to forgive Franz for his silliness. As artistic director Peter Boal explains in a talk to the audience, Balanchine was fond of casting parts for children in his story ballets that are just as technically challenging as those of the older dancers. Their part is a charming addition to an already gratifying performance.

Coppélia demonstrates the best of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s acting and artistic capability, from the set and costume designs to the leads’ classic proficiency and humor. The ballet runs through Sunday, April 24, 2016 at McCaw Hall. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.


Morgan McMurray

Morgan McMurray is a writer and editor based in Seattle. A 2013 graduate of Iowa State University, she has a Bachelor of Arts in English, Journalism, and International Studies.

Read more of her work on her personal blog and at Law Street Media.

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