Home / Arts / Classical Music/Dance / A Perfect 'Coppélia' for Milwaukee Ballet
Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Perfect 'Coppélia' for Milwaukee Ballet

Dance Review

Google+ Pinterest Print
With Coppélia, the Milwaukee Ballet brought an old-school ballet to exquisite life. While the traditional steps, structures and conventions were interesting as history, the performance could not have felt more immediate. Created in Paris in 1870 with a groundbreaking score by Léo Delibes, Coppélia is considered the first ballet with a well-constructed story carefully embodied in the music. Without Coppélia there would be no Swan Lake. Like the latter, it leans heavily on the range, stamina and charisma of a ballerina star. On opening night, Luz San Miguel was sublime in each of Swanhilda's various manifestations as teenager, mechanical doll and romantic heroine. (Julianne Kepley played the role on alternate nights. I wish I could have seen her, too.)

San Miguel's excellence was of a piece with the entire production. Intoxicatingly powerful, the current company feels like an old-style family of performers, individually distinct and collectively unstoppable. Choreographer Michael Pink took the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale about male infatuation with a female doll (and a girl who thinks for herself) at face value and made it credible with wit and empathy for every character.

Ryan Martin danced Swanhilda's fickle swain Franz. (David Hovhannisyan alternated.) Martin's partnering of San Miguel was especially lovely. Together, they made it look effortless. It was a pleasure to watch how softly he lowered her back to the floor from elevated positions. As the hapless, drugged fellow in the second act, he was entirely convincing.

In the other big male role, as Dr. Coppélius, the actor Daniel Mooney was magnificent. By turns magisterial, menacing, triumphant, tragic and, in this version, ultimately forgiving, he filled the large Uihlein Hall with ease. That he comes from the world of theater strengthened the character's outsider status in the ballet, helping him create a character more unknowable than disturbing.

It was a joy to see Yuki Clark and Susan Gartell in solos on opening night. I want to give a shout-out to the members of the Ballet's second company, who played the mechanical dolls to perfection. As usual, the design work was superb, especially in the dark, spooky-comic second act. The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under Pasquale Laurino played so sensitively I sometimes forgot the music was there—it had become the air.