PBT's 'Coppelia' greatly enjoyable

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr loves to tinker, much like Dr. Coppelius does with his dolls in "Coppelia," the final production of the PBT season. But Mr. Orr prefers to toy with full-length classical ballets.

While contemporary choreographers might twist things in a surreal or minimalist fashion, Mr. Orr primarily likes to stay within the rules and history of the art form.

"Coppelia," however, is a ballet where the rules are made to be broken. While "Coppelia" is considered the finest comic traditional ballet, a chunk of its original choreography by Arthur Saint-Lèon has long been lost, leaving it open to any number of options, mostly the Petipa/Ivanov version.

At Friday night's performance at the Benedum Center, it appeared that Mr. Orr had tossed a good bit of the production that he brought to PBT and where he appeared so successfully as Dr. Coppelius himself.

Without going too far off base, Mr. Orr succeeded in providing a fresh take, more in keeping with the darting attention spans of today's audiences. So he took it up a notch in what might be termed his most successful balletic overhaul yet.

There were upgraded fireworks from Dr. Coppelius' workshop that startled, plenty of aerial fireworks for the men (as well as a virtuoso soloist named Heinz, played by principal dancer Nurlan Abougaliev) and a large ensemble number for advanced students in the third act.

Occasionally it went over the top. I lost count of the men's aerial tours and beat combinations, although the audience responded heartily to their efforts, deservedly so. Dr. Coppelius' Charlie Chaplin walk was too precious to be included and Robert Vickrey's priest, although hilarious in his own right, might have been sipping at the sauce prior to the wedding.

But for the most part the comic timing was spot on, helped by the astute accompaniment of conductor Charles Barker and the orchestra as they romped through Leo Delibes' sparkling score.

Mr. Orr was particularly adept with his top trio of main characters, speeding up the 1870 action so much so that it resembled a modern-day television sitcom. Swanhilda is ballet's feistiest heroine and Alexandra Kochis played her to the hilt without losing her strength, deliciously piquant footwork.

Perhaps the best choreographic banter occurred during the second act, where Ms. Kochis' Coppelia "came alive," to Dr. Coppelius' surprise. Although Stephen Hadala was head and shoulders taller than the crotchety little toymaker we have come to expect, he had plenty of tricks up his character's sleeve and the hearty repartee between the two during the Spanish and Scottish variations was a treat to watch.

Franz generally goes along for the ride in this ballet, but Christopher Budzynski made the most of his generous dance opportunities, including a free-wheeling menage of leaps and turns and a good nature to boot.

In fact, the PBT dancers as a whole were more relaxed than I can ever recall. Both characters and combinations seemed to pop, from Julia Erickson (Aurora) and Eva Trapp (Prayer) in solo variations to Caitlin Peabody's scaredy-cat entrance into the toy shop.

Ballet should always be such fun.


Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com. First Published April 16, 2012 9:15 AM


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