|| The Patriot Ledger
|| May 18, 2013
|| Iris Fanger
The Boston Ballet closes its 49th season this weekend and next with a revival of the cherished 19th-century ballet "Coppélia," in hopes the story of the doll-come-to-life will lure little girls and their parents to the Opera House.
This "Coppélia" comes to us courtesy of the late George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, who brought the work out of Russia when they emigrated to the United States in the early 1930s.
At Thursday's opening night performance, the tiny, ebullient ballerina, Misa Kuranaga, took the title role of Swanilda, the mischievous village girl who is transformed into the doll Coppélia. Kuranaga is made for the part, combining a doll-like appearance with a steely technique that gives her the stamina to remain at center stage for much of the evening. She has amazing strength in her legs, balancing on one toe and remaining there for what seems like forever, and moves at whirlwind speed in the multiple, linked turns that embellish many of her solos. She's also fearless in the rushing leaps into the arms - or onto the hip - of her partner and soon-to-be groom, Frantz.
Jeffrey Cirio, the leading male dancer of the company, was cast as Frantz, matching Kuranaga in size and energy. He brings his amazing musicality and personality to the role, as well as his skills as an actor. We can readily believe he's not only in love with Swanilda, but equally attracted to Coppélia the doll, set alluringly up on the balcony that hangs over the village square. With a gleam in his eye, Frantz blows kisses to the inanimate creature, just out of reach.
The other main character, the magician Dr. Coppelius, was portrayed by Boyko Dossev as a bumbling but ultimately lovable old scamp. His character is happiest alone, locked in his secret laboratory with the dolls he has made, especially Coppélia, his tour-de-force creation. The old man is treated badly by Frantz, who has a number of unlovable habits that make him an admirer only Swanilda could love. Hopefully, she will shape him up after they are married at the end of the ballet.
While the first act is mainly exposition, Act II heats up when Swanilda, accompanied by her mini-troupe of girlfriends, sneaks into the house of Dr. Coppelius as he arrives home. To complicate the plot, Frantz has climbed into the second-story window, intending to woo the unresponsive Coppélia. Adding to the mayhem, four dolls are seated around the room: the Astrologer (Christopher Warhuss), the Juggler (Beau Fisher), the Acrobat (Andres Garcia) and the Chinese Man (Marcus Romeo). Swanhilda hides from Dr. Coppelius in the little nook where the lifeless Coppelia sits and exchanges costumes with her. Meanwhile, Dr. Coppelius has caught Frantz, challenged him to a drinking contest, and slipped a sleeping potion into his mug. All the action leads to more time in the spotlight for Kuranaga, who moves woodenly as the doll, then slowly comes to life to perform solos in a Spanish and a Scottish style. Of course, she rescues Frantz, setting the scene for their third-act wedding.
Act III is enhanced by 24 little girls, costumed alike in pink tutus and bows in their hair, who frame the various solos by the wedding guests. The wedding ends in a lovely pas de deux by Swanilda and Frantz after the fiery dance of "War and Discord," led by Lia Cirio (Cirio's sister) and Lasha Khozashvili. One of the most appealing aspects of this production, in addition to Balanchine and Danilova's detailed choreography for the first-act folk dances, is the ensemble of colorful costumes, designed by Kenneth Busbin and Robert O'Hearn.
COPPÉLIA By Boston Ballet, at the Boston Opera House through May 26. Tickets are $29-$137. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org.