“Coppélia,” a must-see for ballet lovers, made Saturday night a big night for the David H. Koch Theater. A New York City Ballet tradition for 40 years, “Coppélia” is a ballet feast, featuring standards by Marius Petipa and George Balanchine, as well as folk dances and delightful mazurka. With Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette as leading dancers, the production translated the charming circuitous tale into the language of comic ballet and mime.
Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1815 tale, “Der Sandmann,” the ballet takes its name from the human-sized doll made by Dr. Coppélius, a toy-maker in the story. Set in a European village, the ballet depicts the love story between Swanilda (Fairchild) and Frantz (Veyette). Swanilda is in love with Frantz, her boyfriend, who has a crush on Coppélia—who is nothing but a doll. The first act tells how Swanilda, a spoiled young girl, gets mad at Frantz. The second act focuses on how she tries to meet her “rival” and saves her boyfriend from the angry toy-maker Dr. Coppélius by disguising herself as Coppélia. The last act culminates in a grand wedding celebration for Swanilda and Frantz, bringing the story to a joyful ending.
Apart from the plot, the highlight of “Coppélia” is the performance of the leading dancers. As a real-life couple, Fairchild and Veyette bring a naturalness to their portrayal of Swanilda and Frantz.
Fairchild is famous for her footwork in dancing. From her first entrance on stage until her ending pose, Fairchild illustrates her prowess. Her footwork is always precise, and her solo dance in the third act, which contains continuous pointe, jumps, and circles, win her overwhelming praise from the audience. Every step she takes and every jump she makes match the orchestra’s music.
The professionalism and chemistry that Fairchild and Veyette share enliven the performance. This is especially evident in the third act, in which Swanilda and Frantz finally get married. The pas de deux marks the climax of the whole performance. During the dance, the two dancers’ eye contact emphasizes their passion. It seems that when they look into each other’s eyes, the audience can sense the characters’ happiness.
Their facial expressions prove that they also have a deep understanding of their characters. Frantz’s cheeky smile when he tries to flirt with Coppélia makes the audience burst into laughter, while Swanilda’s frowns and pouts capture the spirit of a spoiled young girl. Throughout the evening, Fairchild and Veyette express a complicated mix of sorrow, jealousy, fear, innocence, naughtiness, and joy with every move of their chins, lips, and eyes.
Balanchine, the creator of the New York City Ballet version of “Coppélia,” said in the book “Repertory in Review” that the ballet was a performance “for the children, for the ‘masses.’” On a gloomy, snowy day, the comic ballet is a delight for audience members of all ages.
Coppélia runs through Feb. 23 at the David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza.