In times of crisis, people look to art for escapism. And surely it is no coincidence that the houses for the current American Ballet Theatre production of "Coppelia" have been packed. It has a pronounced "don't worry, be happy" feel -- one, unfortunately, that ignores the metaphoric possibilities latent in the ballet.
In performances Saturday afternoon and evening, the company fielded new casts who have been coached to emphasize this cartoonish atmosphere. Most notable in this respect was Victor Barbee's delightfully comic Dr. Coppelius, whose richly detailed mime and pratfalls drew much of their inspiration from Charlie Chaplin. But it was drawn exclusively from the slapstick aspects of Chaplin's work, rather than the poignant aspirations of his creations, and this unidimensionality was sharply felt in the overall lack of emotional resonance of the ballet. This, however, is a problem of staging rather than of Barbee's performance.
Making her debut in the role of Swanilda at the evening performance, Amanda McKerrow was radiant. She danced with sweet authority, like the star she has recently become. She was notably successful in capturing the mechanistic quality of the doll in her impersonation of Coppelia in Act 2. Her well-matched Franz, Danilo Radojevic, made the fiendish aerial work of the role a dazzling display of pyrotechnics.
The matinee performance never quite jelled. The very conception of the relationship between Franz and Swanilda seemed confused; the love that should have been behind their temper tantrums was nowhere in evidence, making psychological hash of the story. As Swanilda, Cynthia Harvey was emotionally and physically subdued, while her Franz, Wes Chapman, went to the opposite extreme in his overly broad acting. While both danced neatly and stylishly, no kinetic sparks flew.
Kathleen Moore, who would undoubtedly make a ravishing Swanilda, enlivened the first act Mazurka, in this otherwise sterile and empty village. A particularly disconcerting note was struck by Eileen Houghton as Swanilda's mother, who looked more like her younger sister.
A new Aurora, Christina Fagundes, and Prayers, Christine Dunham and Julie Kent, turned in beautifully danced performances; but, as was true of the opening, the roles continue to be emotional ciphers in this production.