Love, Death and Treachery as Easy as ABT

American Ballet Theatre will offer two full-length (or evening-long) ballets and a series of programs made up of shorter works during the company's engagement March 12 through 24 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

For full-length works, you have a choice between drugs, treachery and murder in "La Bayadere" (March 19-22) and intelligence and love conquering all in "Coppelia" (March 15-17).

Most Westerners knew "La Bayadere" only from the frequently performed "Kingdom of the Shades" scene in Act II, until Natalia Makarova restaged the full-length work for ABT in 1980.

The typically convoluted plot concerns the thwarted love between Nikiya, an Indian temple dancer (or Bayadere), and the warrior Solor. Complications arise because the rajah orders Solor to marry his daughter Gamzatti, while Nikiya dies from the bite of a poisonous snake. In an opium dream, Solor visits the Kingdom of the Shades and sees Nikiya again. But at his wedding, the gods destroy the palace and bury everyone, thus allowing Solor and Nikiya to join in death. (That's the way things went in 19th-Century ballets.)

In "Coppelia," Swanilda watches her boyfriend, Franz, become infatuated with another woman--actually a life-size doll created by the mysterious Dr. Coppelius. When Franz goes to declare his love for the doctor's "daughter," the scientist drugs him, planning to use him in an experiment. Meanwhile, Swanilda has taken the place of the doll and manages to save Franz.

"Coppelia" was one of the first ballets on the theme of a doll coming to life, and it boasts a score by Leo Delibes.

The programs of mixed repertory works range from the 19th-Century Petipa-classicism of "Swan Lake" Act II (March 23 and 24) to Twyla Tharp's modernism in "Brief Fling" (March 23 and 24).

Other highlights include Balanchine's homage to Marius ("The Sleeping Beauty") Petipa in "Ballet Imperial" (March 13 and 23), and de Mille's "Fall River Legend" (March 12, 13 and 24), a historically inaccurate ballet account of Lizzie Borden's supposed ax murder of her father and stepmother. In reality, Borden was acquitted, but in the ballet, she is hanged. Artistic license, anyone?

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