It's hard to see how the Pennsylvania Ballet could have arranged a more auspicious opening for its week-long visit to the Kennedy Center Opera House than last night's sparkling, witty and polished performance of "Coppelia."
The company's version of this classic comedy has freshness, taste, humor, warmth, charm and excitement. In conception, in execution and in everything that has to do with physical production and theatricality, this is as winning a "Coppelia" as one can easily recall. The company itself, moreover, appears to be in superb shape--on the whole, there was more spirit, rapport and brilliance on display last night than in any of the troupe's previous appearances here, and that says much.
"Coppelia" has as checkered a history as most of the "standards" of the ballet repertory. The Pennsylvania production was staged by Petrus Bosman (with additional choreography by the company's artistic director, Benjamin Harkarvy) on the model of England's Royal Ballet, which traces its "Coppelia" lineage back through Nicholas Sergeyev and Marius Petipa and thence to Arthur St. Leon's Paris original of 1870. Questions of historical authenticity aside, this version has the economy, clarity and refinement of classicism, but averts the museum-piece stodginess this often connotes. In myriad details of direction, setting and characterization, the story of a canny peasant girl who retrieves her sweetheart's affections from the illusory snare of a beautiful doll is newly infused with spontaneity and enchantment.
The dancing and acting on which all else depends is also happily splendid. Tamara Hadley is a perky, resourceful Swanilda, crisp, fleet and agile in technique, and though a mite too tense in some spots, extremely beguiling in her delineation of the role. As a guilelessly fickle Franz, William DeGregory is not only an exceptionally deft partner but strikingly virtuosic on his own account. The most impressive accomplishment of all is the mimed Dr. Coppelius of Dane LaFontsee, a former dancer and one of the troupe's ballet masters. Stooped, squinty-eyed, rickety on his feet, he's at once funny, pathetic and touching as the daft dollmaker, steering a noble middle course between the too easily burlesqued facets of the role and the darker, impassioned, Hoffmannesque qualities which lend a needed hint of depth to the ballet's hijinks.
This is very much a company effort, and the contributions on all sides merit compliments. The mime is unhurried, unaffected and lucid; the ensemble dancing, as in the Mazurka and Czardas, is brisk and precise, and the various supporting parts, from the Act II dolls to the finale's divertissements, are capably managed. Jose Varona's beautifully unified decor and costumes play a large part in sustaining the charm, and conductor Maurice Kaplow treats the Delibes score with rigor and affection. "Coppelia" will have a repeat performance tonight.