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Philadelphia Ballet concludes its season with a new work designed to appeal to the whole family. Coppélia recounts the story of a villainous doctor, a dancing life-size doll, and young lovers Swanilda and Franz. The doctor’s attempts to turn the doll into the ideal woman come between the couple, taking them on a spirited journey featuring humor, cunning, and romance. Based on the tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the German author who wrote the story on which The Nutcracker is based, Coppélia is a comic ballet created by Arthur Saint-Léon in 1870. This production includes choreography by Philadelphia Ballet artistic director Angel Corella and runs May 11-14.
Singing with your body
Corella’s process of creating Coppélia started with the music, a lively score by French Romantic composer Léo Delibes. “The music guides you through the story,” he said. Corella met with orchestra director Beatrice Jona Affron and pianist Martha Koeneman to go over the whole score, singing the parts he wanted for his production. Then, he began putting the dance together in the studio. Drawing from his own experience dancing as Franz in multiple versions, Corella guided dancers through the nuances of their roles. Movements must be clear so the audience can see and respond, and facial expressions help convey when Swanilda pretends to be one of the doctor’s dolls. “The great thing is that we have five different casts and each one can bring something really special to the role,” Corella said. “It was really fun to work with them.”
On opening night, dancers Mayara Pineiro and Ashton Roxander will portray Swanilda and Franz. Roxander described Coppélia as a character-driven story full of technical challenges, including acting and comedy. “You have to rely on big movements and big gestures” to make people laugh, he said. “Swanilda is one of the hardest roles” for female dancers, Roxander added. Pineiro agreed that playing a doll and a human can be difficult, but anticipation prevailed. “I’m very excited because it’s going to be my first time playing this role,” she said.
Coppélia offers great dancing in addition to the comedy, making it an easy watch in Corella’s view. “It’s almost like a Broadway show” without vocals, he said; “the dancers are singing with their bodies” instead. Already familiar with story ballets like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty? Don’t sleep on Coppélia, which Corella and the dancers consider one of the most exciting ballets to watch. Coppélia offers laugh-out-loud moments, heart-warming scenes, and a doll factory to delight young viewers.
What, When, Where
Coppélia. Choreography by Angel Corella. Philadelphia Ballet; presented by the Kimmel Cultural Campus. $25-$214. May 11-14, 2023, at Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or philadelphiaballet.org.
Visit the Kimmel Cultural Campus's accessibility page for information about accessibility. Coppélia is recommended for ages 4 and older.
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