New York City Ballet
by Elizabeth McPherson
January 7, 2009 -- New York State Theatre, New York
From the exquisite performance of Megan Fairchild as Swanilda to the endearingly enthusiastic children in Act III, New York City Ballet’s performance of “Coppélia” on January 7, 2009 was simply and absolutely charming.
Originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon in 1870, “Coppélia” was revised in 1884 by Marius Petipa with further revisions by Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti in 1894. It was this latter version that George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova were familiar with from their student days in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the 1940s, Danillova was acclaimed for her performance as Swanilda with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Balanchine and Danilova collaborated to stage and choreograph the version for NYCB, which premiered in 1974 and is in current repertoire.
In the leading role of Swanilda, Fairchild was wonderfully captivating and really carried the ballet. No one else came close to matching her in terms of personality and charisma. Her expressive upper body and face pulled my eyes to her every moment she was on stage. Her dancing was impeccable -- pristine balances, nuanced musicality, but so much more than just technique. She truly became Swanilda, drawing the audience into a magical fantasy world.
Joaquin De Luz as Franz was also engaging; however, his character could have been more fully realized. His repeated exit jump of a suspended sauté in passé as if to say “I’ll be back!” was a highlight along with his solid and consistent multiple turns.
As Dr. Coppélius, Robert La Fosse’s use of physical comedy was quite well done, reminding me a bit of Tim Conway in his hilarious old man role on the “Carol Burnett Show.” One particularly funny bit was his shuffling walk with a pivot to the next direction: shuffle along, pivot, shuffle along, pivot, instead of the more natural walk in a straight line from point A to point B.
The Villagers’ character dances in Act I showed Balanchine’s genius for moving large numbers of people around the stage. Their patterns and sequences with turns and opposing facings are like the rich intricacies of Baroque architecture.
In Act III, as Dawn, Teresa Reichlen’s turns were stunning with her yellow Barbara Karinska designed skirt rippling like the icing on a birthday cake. Rebecca Krohn as Prayer stood out for her luscious arms and extended phrasing in contrast to the precise and fast footwork of Faye Arthurs as Spinner.
The Four Jesterettes (Callie Bachman, Megan Johnson, Kristen Segin, and Lydia Wellington) brightened the stage with clarity and precision as they moved through their contrapuntal sequences. It almost seems as if Balanchine was showing off with this tongue-twisting-like, tight choreography.
Fairchild and De Luz’s Act III pas de deux showed them developing into maturity from the youthful folly of the first two acts. While they performed some of the standard classical ballet lifts, other lifts surprised, as Balanchine added his neoclassical twist to this 19th century ballet. Each lift seemed to arrive with no preparation -- they were beautifully choreographed and performed.
Balanchine once famously said, “Ballet is woman.” This version of “Coppélia” certainly emphasized that, even with some added choreography for Franz. The final shoulder sit lift completely obscured De Luz’s face as is often the case with sit lifts, but fairly amusing as an ending. Fairchild ruled the evening, and rightfully so. She was untouchable in her superb portrayal of Swanilda.