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ABT’s Version of ‘Coppelia’ Holds True to the Original

TIMES DANCE CRITIC

A restaged, refurbished “Coppelia” may be no substitute for the new and original, full-length jazz ballet originally announced to end the American Ballet Theatre’s 1997 visit to the Orange County Performing Arts Center. But at least artistic director Kevin McKenzie avoided the disaster of the last “Don Quixote” restaging for his company by making a very sensible decision:

By entrusting “Coppelia” to former Ballet Russe star Frederic Franklin, ABT has gained the most authentic, stylish version of the three-act comic classic in its history.

Created in 1870 by Arthur Saint-Leon and then re-choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov 14 years later, the ballet has the same flow of mime-into-dance found in the Bournonville repertory of the Romantic era, as well as an Imperial Russian-style pas de deux replete with fearsome tests of balance for the ballerina. At the core of its appeal lies the contrast between true love and a false or unattainable ideal found in nearly all the 19th century classics--plus, of course, the glories of LeMo Delibes’ greatest theater score.

At 82, Franklin knows its secrets as well as anyone living and if his staging sometimes duplicates that of Alexandra Danilova (his Ballet Russe partner) and George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet, it wholly avoids the sitcom crudities of previous ABT editions. Using the same fanciful Tony Straiges settings and overdecorated Patrieeecia Zipprodt costumes introduced six years ago, it makes only one serious mistake: trivializing the character of Dr. Coppelius, and thus robbing Act 2 of any dramatic tension.

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Three casts performed this new “Coppelia” in Segerstrom Hall over the weekend, with Swanilda looking mean-spirited toward the harmless old coot at every performance.

On Friday, a newly refined Paloma Herrera danced the role for the first time, unable as yet to integrate the mime and dancing but, of course, breezing through every technical challenge except for brief, hard-won balances in the last-act duet. Part of her problem, perhaps: Angel Corella in his debut as Franz--immensely charming, but no partner, master of fabulous turns, but no actor.

The Saturday afternoon “Coppelia” featured two second-ranked dancers new to this ballet. Yan Chen made an adorably kittenish Swanilda, though her fine classical dancing often lacked authoritative finishes. Parrish Maynard may have been over-effusive as Franz, but his reliability as a partner proved exemplary.

Saturday evening belonged to Susan Jaffe and Jose Manuel Carren~o--she the mistress of a beguilingly varied interpretation as well as great technical finesse (apart from problematic fouettes in the finale), he dancing Franz for the first time but as amazing as ever both in technique and emotional generosity.

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Both principals cast as Dr. Coppelius bumbled incessantly, though in different ways, with Victor Barbee (in the two evening performances) suggesting a man unhinged by an impossible love and Gil Boggs (at the Saturday matinee) simply piling up eccentricities relentlessly.

In subsidiary roles, Ashley Tuttle (Friday) and Christina Fagundes (Saturday afternoon) each excelled as Prayer despite disastrously wrong see-through costumes, and Irina Dvorovenko (Saturday night) looked like a star-dancer as Dawn.

Based on the evidence, nobody should ever lead the mazurka and csardas (the latter moved to the last act in this version) except Olga Yaroslavtzeva and Andrei Dokukin, who graced the matinee. Even when these ensembles fell flat, 12 children from ballet schools in Orange County never faltered in their show-stopping “Dance of the Hours.”

Charles Barker conducted all three performances capably, though the brass section of the Pacific Symphony was in frequent disarray.


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