Ballet Theatre of Ohio (BTO) will reprise its 2004 version of the classic romantic ballet “Coppelia” at the Akron Civic Theatre through May 6. It’s worth the effort to see.
BTO is a pre-professional group that hires in professional dancers for adult (and usually male) roles. So for a local ballet company usually dominated by young female dancers, this ballet is a shoo-in to want to produce. When “Coppelia” first appeared in the Paris Opera House in 1870, 16-year old Giuseppina Bozzachi danced the role of the lead character, Swanhilde; it’s no stretch to see 17-year old Sarah Ruesch do the part today.
The only real male roles in the ballet are for the romantic lead, Franz, and Dr. Coppelius. In that first production, Franz’s part was done by a young woman en travesti (in drag), a tradition the French kept well into the next century.
The plot is relatively simple. Dr. Coppelius makes life-sized dolls, one of whom – Coppelia – he sets out on a balcony each day as though she is reading. Coppelia fascinates the local young people, especially Franz (who seemingly has a roving eye), and the ever-curious Swanhilde.
Swanhilde gets jealous over Franz’s attention and wants to confront Coppelia at the same time that Franz wants to get to know her better for his own reasons. Both sneak into Dr. Coppelius’s toy shop and wreak havoc; Swanhilde is threatened with charges and damages. All works out, however, and the couple resolves their differences once they see the light. Then they marry. (For a dance synopsis of the work, click here.)
Most people I know don’t go to the ballet for the story. It’s for the dance, and that’s what brings this production to life. BTO’s artistic director and choeographer Christine Meneer structures in ballet terms the tale of the love story at the center of the work.
In Act I, there is the famous “Wheat pas de deux,” which underlines the shakiness of the budding romance and impending marriage of Swanhilde and Franz. Everyone notices the young couple’s tiff over the doll; one townsperson tells Swanhilde to shake a stalk of wheat. If she hears a noise, Franz is the man for her. She doesn’t; she even shakes it at him in a snit, and he doesn’t hear anything – but pretends he does because he realizes she’s the one for him.
In Act II, the grand pas de deux underlines their romantic realignment, an event that is celebrated in Act II when all the townspeople dance and have a grand time because all is right in their world.
The Akron Civic Theatre, a restored 1920s Art Deco structure, makes a larger-than-life setting for this production. Gargoyles off to the side of the proscenium, massive velvet curtains, a ceiling that effects the night sky (swiftly moving clouds and all) and grand staircases and entryways – these things can spellbind young and old audiences alike.