An Impish Sparkle Lights Up PNB’s Entrancing Coppélia

by on June 3, 2012
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PNB principal dancers Jonathan Porretta and Kaori Nakamura as Franz and Swanilda in PNB’s production of Coppélia, choreographed by Alexandra Danilova and George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust (after Marius Petipa). (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno created the storybook sets and costumes for PNB’s production of Coppélia, choreographed by Alexandra Danilova and George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust (after Marius Petipa). (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Swanilda’s friends (PNB company dancers) explore the mysterious workshop of the eccentric toymaker Dr. Coppelius in PNB’s production of Coppélia, choreographed by Alexandra Danilova and George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust (after Marius Petipa). (Photo © Angela Sterling)

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It’s hard to say what is the most delectable part of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Coppélia (through June 10 at McCaw Hall; tickets): the sets, the costumes (both by Roberta Guidi di Bagno for the 2010 production here) or the music–or of course the dancing.

From the first notes, conductor Emil de Cou keeps a vibrant, lively pace in Leo Delibes’ music, its charm flowing out to the audience and multiplied by the set of houses painted with sprays of blue flowers, and the heroine Swanilda’s cottage reminiscent of a sturdy little teapot.

We are already beguiled by this when the cottage door opens and Kaori Nakamura as Swanilda appears to tiptoe and dance across the stage in one of the prettiest costumes any ballerina has a chance to wear. Not just hers, but every costume for the entire ballet is fairytale attractive, and at the end one is left with not only the dancing and music to savor, but what you’ve seen stays in the mind like the lingering taste of a delicious bonbon.

I first saw Nakamura dance Coppélia at PNB in 1997. She was entrancing in the role then, opening a whole new aspect of a dancer I had previous respected as having wonderful technique but regarded somewhat as a steel magnolia. Now she had an impish sparkle and lightness as well.

Fast forward to Friday night’s opening performance and Nakamura had that same impish sparkle only more so, a willful, fun-loving, charming teen. Nakamura has never ceased to grow as a dancer, and when she was on stage Thursday it was hard to take the eyes off her. Her technique is impeccable, her footwork exquisite and always in tempo, light as a feather when she touches the ground. You almost feel she doesn’t touch the ground.

Swanilda has a hefty role in Coppélia. She dances throughout the first long act, then is the central figure in the second, acting all the while. She does get a break in the third before the final traditional pas de deux with some very difficult steps which Nakamura floated through with apparent ease, particularly hard at the end of a full-length ballet.

Her Franz, the boyfriend who has been mesmerized by the unattainable and unresponsive doll Coppélia, was danced by Jonathan Porretta, another whose technique is superb and who always brings an individual character to his roles. The two, particularly in that last pas de deux together, were sheer pleasure to watch.

Among other fine performances, Jeffrey Stanton returned from retirement to fill the role of the creaky old inventor, Dr. Coppelius, and four other principals or soloists took the brief spotlight: Rachel Foster in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, a role which didn’t suit this excellent dancer, plus Lesley Rausch as Dawn, Lindsi Dec as Prayer and Maria Chapman as Spinner, all of whom did well. Carrie Imler and Batkhurel Bold as Discord and War and their warriors in armor and helmets felt heavy next to the lightness of everything prior to this, and I spent their entire divertissement worrying that someone was going to get stabbed by a waving spear.

The corps de ballet has a huge role in Coppélia, as villagers, as friends of Swanilda or Franz, as warriors, brides and grooms, and left one proud that PNB’s corps dancers are of of such high caliber, but it was the twenty-four well-trained little ballerinas in pink tutus who enchanted everyone.

All in all, this is a don’t-miss production, to savor, to go see again, to take the kids and grandkids or neighbor kids. Anything for an excuse to go back!

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