May Ballet – Coppelia: A Comedy of Toys and Ballerinas


As with all the ballets teach the children, I’ve simplified this some. Your children won’t recognize the “jealousy plot” that brews with Rhinehardt offers a flower to Coppelia (the doll). When we dance like Swanilde entering the Inventor’s studio I fail to mention she does so with friends. I also regularly forget the occult undertones of the Inventor’s work (I just say he’s “silly”). Yet, despite literal differences it’s likely the dancers won’t be too bothered with variation. This said, the ballets listed below are incredibly similar to each other so choosing which to watch is a matter of preference: watch a few moments from the middle and see which you prefer.

I often begin this month pointing out the difference between drama and comedy. I explain that Swan Lake is very serious and everything that happens in the ballet happens because it’s important. By contrast, Coppelia is a comic ballet in which things happen to delight you or make you giggle. Saying this doesn’t make the laughter come more easily, it just affects expectations.

The credits on the first version say they’re by the Grand Royal Ballet of Moscow, and while that title isn’t familiar to me the choreography surely is; as with most Russian ballet companies the dancing is marvelously precise. The direction on this production gets both very close and very far from the dancers in an effort to draw attention to the grand theater and full orchestra but the odd effect is doing so makes the production look small. It is quite sweet anyway. The children will recognize details. Like when Swanilde enters the studio it’s dark and she walks around with her hands out in front of her.

When I began studying Coppelia, this was the production I watched on tape. It’s the 1990 production recorded at the Syndey Opera House for Australian Public TV. Their dancers are great but the style is less precise than the Russians and features a good bit more character movements and grand gestures. They emphasize the comic aspect of the ballet a great deal. Also, the introductory music provides a little playbill-style introduction of the major characters (note: in this production the boy’s name is Franz). The children will especially appreciate the moment when Swanilde gestures “hello hello” to Coppelia.

This last production feels like a find. It’s the National Ballet of Cuba and the manner of production is entirely rudimentary. I think they just set up a camera in the middle of the theater. You can hear the audience adjusting and see their heads as they stand up from their seats. That aside, this is the first production I’ve seen that did not begin in the Inventor’s workshop. We begin in the village with Swanilde prancing about and she’s wonderful! Controlled and joyous. You’ll notice a tad more pantomime to the audience here than with the Russian production, and there seem to be fewer cast members and a bigger interest in provincial dancing (Coppelia’s mazurka is among the most famous in all ballet and this production directs it like a folk dance).

Coppelia is a great starter ballet (to follow Nutcracker, of course) and the light heartedness is as memorable as the Inventor’s outlandish toys. Boy will the children like seeing what the toys look like! In the puppet story they’re just a wind up doll and a carousel. The ballet offers so very much for them!

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this with your lovely children!

Miss Sara

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