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Boston Ballet

'Coppelia'

by Carla DeFord

May 16, 19 and 22, 2013 -- Boston Opera House, Boston, MA

This month I had the privilege of seeing the Boston Ballet production of Coppélia three times with three different casts. The opening night Swanilda was Misa Kuranaga, and what I found particularly impressive about her performance was her ability to whirl through a movement and then stop on a dime, suspended on one toe. Her dancing is always strong, and she’s a good comedienne. Except when doing comic bits such as her terrified approach to Coppelia in Act II, however, her affect was rather flat.

Jeffrey Cirio was her Frantz, and he seemed much more comfortable in this role than he did playing Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty. He has an adorable boyish face and great charm, which certainly helped with his comic characterization. A technically accomplished dancer, he demonstrated spectacular leg beats and leaps in his variations. His slight stature is a drawback, however, and probably contributed to a problem in the Act III grand pas de deux: the lifts were not secure.

In this performance Ashley Ellis’s beautifully rounded port de bras and legato phrasing made the Act III “Prayer” variation memorable. It was reminiscent of her Woodland Glade Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, another adagio variation in which she showed great amplitude of movement and, it seemed to me, deep musicality. Thank you, Maestro McPhee, for supporting her so well in those two roles.

Ellis was the second Swanilda I saw, and although she had beautiful technique, she was even less satisfying than Kuranaga as an actress. For example, when Swanilda as Coppélia “comes to life” in Act II, the ballerina has an opportunity to embody the contrast between rigidity and fluidity, and to celebrate the simple joy of breathing, but Ellis didn’t make the moment register.

Avetik Karapetyan as Frantz, on the other hand, was a completely different story. In him I saw the first truly exciting male dancer at Boston Ballet since James Whiteside left for American Ballet Theatre (except for Joseph Gatti, whom I have yet to see in a principal role). Whiteside’s departure left a gaping hole in the Boston Ballet roster. Now Karapetyan, in his first starring role with the company, has announced his presence. He has wonderfully long lines, great jumps and spins, tremendous precision, and immense confidence. That confidence allows him to focus on his partner and on making a connection with the audience.

Baryshnikov once said that he fell a little bit in love with all his leading ladies. Karapetyan obviously loves not only showing off his ballerina but also being onstage. If the Act III lifts were not quite perfect, the rest of his performance was nearly so. I think he and Gatti, who both danced Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty, are now the reigning princes of the air at Boston Ballet.

Next I saw Adiarys Almeida as Swanilda, and she is a phenomenal dancing actress. Her eyes, which she can open as wide as saucers, ought to be considered two of the Seven Wonders of the World. When handed a sheaf of wheat in Act I, she rolled those black optics at Frantz as if to say, “What in heaven’s name is this?” The message was delivered with such force that it seemed to penetrate into the farthest reaches of the house.

Another arresting moment came at the end of the Act I waltz. When Almeida beat her fists at the implacable Coppélia, her frustration was not merely cute. It was so genuine that it underscored the difference between the doll and Swanilda, between an automaton and a human being, between imperviousness and the ability to feel emotion.

Her Frantz was John Lam, and he did all the comic business well. His dancing is always excellent, with great positions in the air. As with his Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty, he didn’t establish much of a relationship with his ballerina, but his status as a veteran dancer showed in the solidity of his lifts.

It was really a pleasure to see two very different interpretations of Dr. Coppélius. Boyko Dossev was quite charming and endearing. There was an effective ad-lib moment in Act II when he reached for his book of spells (which was on the floor) and found it was upside down. The desperation of his demeanor as he flipped the book over underscored his impatience to get on with his magic so he could animate the doll-like creature he thought was Coppélia. He himself was very animated, and his performance included lots of details that read well.

Robert Kretz’s Coppélius seemed to come from another world. He behaved toward Coppélia/Swanilda not like a proud father, but like a man in love. In this he was similar to Pygmalion enamored of Galatea or, indeed, like Hoffman in his relationship to Olympia. There was something slightly dangerous, perhaps even poetic, about him. When Swanilda misbehaved, his rage was as real as the intensity with which he focused on the object of his desire. I thought it was a brilliant conception of the role.

Kudos to Boston Ballet Orchestra assistant conductor Geneviève Leclair, who conducted both Sleeping Beauty and Coppélia for the first time this season. She was at the podium in the last two performances I saw, and I was particularly impressed by the energy and excitement of the Act III Galop générale with its clarion trumpet calls. Several soloists also deserve recognition, including concertmaster Michael Rosenbloom (Act I “Ballade de l’Épi”), principal clarinetist Alexis Lanz (Act I Thème slave varié), and principal violist Jean Haig (Act III grand pas de deux). The Boston Ballet Orchestra is one of the largest musical organizations in the city, second only to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and if it’s “a bit unsung,” as Karen Campbell of the Boston Globe recently noted, it shouldn’t be.

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