New York City Ballet


by Kate Snedeker

May 24, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

Based on Charles Nuitter’s happier version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s dark tale, “Der Sandmann”, Coppelia is the lighthearted story of two young lovers, Swanilda and Frantz, whose courtship is briefly interrupted by a doll and a misunderstanding. George Balanchine’s production, drawn partly from Petipa’s original, is set in a Middle European country village, brought to life in pastel colors by Rouben Ter Arutunian. The equally colorful, detailed costumes were designed by Ter Arutunian and Karinska.

On Saturday afternoon, Coppelia was given a newly youthful and vibrant feel with the debut of Alexandra Ansanelli as Swanilda. This was a special occasion for Ansanelli, as it was not only a major debut, but also her first performance as a principal dancer.

The youngest couple to take on the lead roles in recent years, Ansanelli and Millepied were a delightfully effective Swanilda and Frantz. Since his debut in February, Millepied has clearly worked on fleshing out the detail in his characterization. His Frantz has a not-so-innocent mischievousness, with intelligence lurking behind his dark eyes. Ansanelli, too, gave her character an unusual bit of intelligence. Dancing with her usual élan, Ansanelli was a cheeky, free-spirited Swanilda, her emotions playing, unrushed, across her expressive face. Together Millepied and Ansanelli seemed to have an easy rapport, their dark-haired good looks and shorter, slender physiques an excellent match. Frequently paired in other ballets, they appeared to be comfortable in even the trickier pas de deux sections.

The first act dances by Coppelia’s friends appeared under-rehearsed, with several obvious timing problems during the brief duos. However, despite the slightly rough beginning, the large group sections were danced with well-timed zest. Megan Fairchild stood out as the youngest of the friends, notable for her precise dancing and delightful mime. The character dances were energetic, with proper attention paid to the details of the complicated steps. It was a shame however, that many of the men’s boots still seem to be very poorly fitted. It’s a small detail, but the boots stand out in an otherwise well-costumed ballet.

Robert LaFosse’s Coppelius is a eccentric toymaker, slightly stooped and just a little bit sinister. In Act Two, he seems to truly believe that he can bring Coppelia to life with Frantz’s “life essence”. It was in this act that Ansanelli really shone, bold and mischievous in her actions. Her Coppelia was suitably doll-like, but with more curve in her stiff arms than often seen. Some timing mishaps caused her Spanish and Scottish dances to be slightly rushed, but Ansanelli darted through the steps with a punchy speed. More experience will allow her to slow down just a hair, and bring out the character of these dances a bit more. Ansanelli was a particularly delightful as she created havoc in the workshop, pausing just a moment before each toy to plot her toy-toppling approach. This Swanilda clearly enjoyed being naughty!

In the third act, the students from the School of American Ballet, were as always, beautifully rehearsed and a delight to watch. Abi Stafford, as Dawn, gave a technically solid performance, but needed to relax into the role and invest more emotion in her dancing. Amanda Edge in the Waltz of the Golden Hours and Pascale Van Kipnis as Spinner danced with elegance and precision. Dana Hanson’s Prayer was especially beautiful, with Hanson using her long limbs to accent the flowing choreography. The jingling jesterettes were springy and cheerful. Discord and War, led by the powerful and high flying Aesha Ash and Adam Hendrickson, was especially well danced.

In the Peace pas de deux, Ansanelli and Millepied brought a youthful innocence to the beautiful choreography. The frolicking lovers of the first two acts had clearly gained a new maturity as husband and wife. The adagio section was especially touching, despite the distraction of a loudly crying child in the audience, with careful, but nuanced and flowing dancing. Millepied seemed at ease with Ansanelli, partnering her with care and tenderness. Ansanelli’s balances were excellent, and she did not rush the choreography, slipping off pointe just once. Millepied was a bit under-rotated in the series of tours landing in second plie, but soared in his assembles and jetes en circle, his ballon airy and his landings light. Ansanelli was just a bit cautious in her solos, but her dancing had a wonderful light, precise and delicate quality. It was a youthful performance, but auspicious, hinting at wonderful performances from both Ansanelli and Millepied.

May 27, 2003 -- New York State Theater, New York

On Tuesday night, the New York City Ballet's Spring Season performances of George Balanchine's Coppelia continued, with several changes in the lead and divertissement casts. The most significant change was that of Adam Hendrickson, who debuted as Dr. Coppelius in February, taking over the role from Robert LaFosse. With Alexandra Ansanelli and Benjamin Millepied continuing in the lead roles, the production had a joyously youthful and energetic feel.

The first act variations for Swanilda’s friends were decidedly improved over earlier performances, with much greater attention to timing and a more relaxed feel to the dancing. The first act also brought unexpected problems for both Ansanelli and Millepied, for Ansanelli, an apparent bloody nose, and Millepied, a de-velcroed butterfly that fell to the stage before he could catch it in his net. Both dancers handled the surprises beautifully, demonstrating comfort in these very new roles. This comfort was even clearer in their elegant third act pas de deux. Though excellent in her debut, Ansanelli has clearly grown even more confident in the role. She appeared much more assured in the choreography, adding speed to her powerful, yet delicate and precise dancing. Millepied matched the drama in her dancing with his own high flying variations, his astounding ballon and panther-like landings most impressive.

The youthful feeling continued with Adam Hendrickson’s moving performance as Dr. Coppelius. Though barely half as old as Robert LaFosse, the other current Coppelius, Hendrickson displayed a surprising maturity in his detailed and well though out characterization of Coppelius.
While LaFosse has settled on a humorous, slightly cantankerous approach to the role, Hendrickson takes a much different tack. His Coppelius is a gentle, energetic soul, full of tender affection for his creations. The depth of Hendrickson’s characterization was apparent in his attention to all the little details, including the very tender manner in which he repositioned the dolls after chasing out Swanilda’s friends. He gently lifted the acrobat back onto his cushion, stopping to pat him on the had before moving on, and softly stroked Swanilda’s hair when he brought her out. Bestowed with hands that are unusually full of _expression, Hendrickson also stood out for his clear mime. His interaction with Ansanelli was solid, despite a few glitches-this was their first performance together. Hendrickson, does however need to keep Coppelius’ age in mind, and remember not to dart so quickly across the stage.

In the third act divertissements, Lindy Mandradjieff, with a sparkling smile, was was appropriately delicate in the Waltz of the Hours. Adding extra nuance to the role, Dena Abergel shone as Prayer, and Carrie Lee Riggins was a delightfully precise and fleet footed Spinner. Ellen Bar and Seth Orza had the proper power in Discord and War, though occasionally not quite in synch with eachother.

Maurice Kaplow conducted, the orchestra offering a solid performance of Leo Delibes score.

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