Yes, Mikhail Baryshnikov is irresistibly charming as the amorous simpleton Frantz, as he showed once again in the New York City Ballet production of "Coppelia" at the Kennedy Center Saturday afternoon. Patricia McBride, moreover, with her crisp movements and candy-coated stage presence, is an ideal Swanilda for this Balanchine-Danilova version of the comedy classic. Yet all of their expertise, and that of their colleagues, could not dispel the feeling that this was a superficial, chilly and mechanical performance of what is essentially a superficial, chilly and mechanical production.
Baryshnikov and McBride play well against one another, but one senses that this is more a matter of skillful accommodation than of rapport. And while Shaun O'Brien's gothic, intricately detailed portrayal of Dr. Coppelius, the eccentric toymaker, makes the character more interesting, it also makes him far less sympathetic than usual. Who really cares what happens to such a thoroughly unpleasant weirdo? Even Dr. Frankenstein had his attractive sides.
There were pluses during this matinee besides the dancing of the McBride and Baryshnikov, including the smartly rendered theme and variations in Act I by Swanilda and her eight friends; the sweet radiance of the children's ensemble in the "Waltz of the Golden Hours," and the sabresharp Kyra Nichols in the "War" variation. But, generally speaking, rarely has "Coppelia" seemed so much of a clockwork ballet, as heartless as its protagonists.