The tale of a mischievous girl who triumphs over a hapless inventor to captivate her still more hapless boyfriend, Coppelia is one of classical ballet’s few comedies. It’s an appealing but lightweight work, and in choosing it for the closing program of the season, perhaps Miami City Ballet officials were hoping for an easy crowd pleaser.
On Saturday night at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the troupe gave an adept and charming, if not terribly inspired, performance. Compared to the fire with which they attacked this season’s premieres by Liam Scarlett and Alexei Ratmansky, or the depth and precision with which they dance the Balanchine repertoire, Coppelia felt rather flat — a network sitcom rather than an HBO drama.
Jeanette Delgado (who alternates in the title role with Mary Carmen Catoya) was a sassy, confident Swanilda, the impish village teen incensed at how her boyfriend Franz (a boyish, vaulting Renato Penteado) dotes on Coppelia, a pretty but oddly passive girl perched on a balcony at the home of inventor Dr. Coppelius, (Yann Travidic, who curls his long, elegant frame into a scuttling crablike curve). Swanilda sneaks into Dr. Coppelius’ workshop with a tittering gang of girlfriends to discover lifesize mechanical dolls, including Coppelia. When Dr. Coppelius bursts in, Swanilda disguises herself as her artificial rival. She bamboozles the inventor and rescues Franz, who comes seeking a more accommodating toy and gets trapped by the doctor, who tries to use him to bring his creation to life.
Created in 1870 by Arthur Saint-Leon for the Paris Opera Ballet, Coppelia now seems as fluffy sweet as cotton candy (if those happily mythical peasants of 19th Century ballet ate cotton candy), as broadly silly as vaudeville. Any weightier notes (a Victorian-era fascination with artificial life, the way the village youth mock the educated doctor —also a lecherous type who seeks to create an accomodating doll, and the fact that a young girl outsmarts all the men) are subsumed in comedy. MCB’s candybox production features pretty pastel costumes from American Ballet Theater, and the Opus One Orchestra, led by Gary Sheldon, gave a crisp performance of the lovely Delibes score.
Delgado’s impulsive Swanilda wouldn’t be out of place in a Disney teen comedy. When Franz’s attention strays, she teases and flirts, then indignantly snubs him and stomps on his foot. Her incandescent smile and energy suit this irrepressible character, and show a knack for comedy we don’t often get to see. Her best moments are in Dr. Coppelius’ workshop, trampling his dusty magic book, eyes fluttering in time to the music, spinning gleefully out of control. As Franz, Penteado is also broad and confident, and his soaring jumps and easy athleticism in his solos were a pleasure.
But the dancing wasn’t always as well coached or sculpted as it might have been. The dynamism and sharpness that so enlivens MCB’s neo-classical and contemporary ballets could be too blunt here. Delgado was unerringly strong in a first act solo, but she didn’t show her usual musicality and thus didn’t capture the delicate, playful quality of the music. The ensemble village dances were a little flat (Kleber Rebello and Renan Cerdeiro stood out in short, soaring solos), and in the Dance of the Hours in the third act, rather shaggy. The most lyrical dancing of the night came from Delgado and Penteado’s lovely third act wedding pas de deux (and its celebratory whirlwind turns). But Coppelia produced more mild giggles than life-affirming guffaws.