On Friday night, Joshua and I attended a performance of Boston Ballet’s production of “Coppelia”.
Boston Ballet’s current staging of “Coppelia” is the company’s first presentation of the George Balanchine/Alexandra Danilova version, first unveiled by New York City Ballet in 1974. The Balanchine/Danilova version is based upon Marius Petipa’s 1884 version, revised in 1894 by Enrico Cecchetti, except that Balanchine provided an entirely new Act III.
In its program booklet, Boston Ballet asserts that its current presentation of “Coppelia” is unique. The company claims that Boston Ballet is the only American company other than NYCB authorized to present the Balanchine/Danilova version.
Such assertion is incorrect. In June, Pacific Northwest Ballet will also present the Balanchine/Danilova “Coppelia”. In fact, the person in charge of staging the Boston production on behalf of The Balanchine Trust, Judith Fugate, is also scheduled to stage the Seattle production.
For its “Coppelia”, Boston Ballet has not used a recreation of Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s original NYCB stage designs and Karinska’s original NYCB costume designs. Instead, the company has purchased Seattle’s old “Coppelia” physical production—Pacific Northwest Ballet has commissioned entirely new stage and costume designs for its upcoming “Coppelia”—and, according to the program booklet, has refurbished and rebuilt the old Seattle production to suit Boston’s staging.
This was probably a mistake. The Seattle production, refurbished and rebuilt or no, looked cheap and unattractive. Boston Ballet would have been better off recreating the original NYCB designs.
“Coppelia” is such an enchanting ballet that Josh and I enjoyed the performance very much—and this was despite the fact that the presentation was anything but top-notch. The dancing lacked the specificity and precision necessary to realize fully Balanchine’s genius and originality. Everything was too generalized, even a bit muddy. Characterizations were broad. Divertissements were not polished and exacting as they must be. There was too little virtuosity to be seen onstage. The flood of child dancers was annoying.
We had purchased tickets for Friday night’s performance because Friday night’s cast was the same cast as that on opening night. We had assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the opening night cast would showcase the finest of the Boston dancers.
I found none of the principals to be impressive. All very much operated on a purely regional level of accomplishment. In fact, I found both the Swanilda and the Franz to be very, very weak.
The Boston Ballet orchestra was much less impressive playing Leo Delibes’s captivating “Coppelia” score Friday night than it had been last October, when we had heard the orchestra give a fine account of Adolphe Adam’s “Giselle” score.
In sum, everything about the performance was tired and lackluster.
And yet all evening we were never in doubt for a moment that “Coppelia” is a work very much worth seeing and hearing. There is no other work in the repertory quite like it. It may be the single most life-affirming ballet ever created. Its charms come across even in the most inept of productions.