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The Carolina Ballet revived its charming version of the classic romantic story ballet Coppelia for a four-day run starting Thursday, March 17, in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Set in an imaginary eastern European village of two hundred years ago, and danced to lovely music by Léo Delibes, Coppelia is a frothy tale of youthful high spirits and young love underlaid with a somewhat darker meditation on the essential contrast between art and life. Robert Weiss' choreography follows that of Marius Pepita: the resulting confection blends spirited mime with lots of pretty dancing.
The ballet is like a tremendous bouquet of beautiful flowers studded with a trio of extra-special blossoms. It includes numerous excellent ensemble dances and three lovely solos, but the ballet is primarily a vehicle for three principal dancers. On the 17th, Lilyan Vigo danced Swanhilda/Coppelia opposite Cyrille de la Barre as Franz. Ballet master Marin Boieru, in a rare stage appearance, portrayed the lonely old toymaker Dr. Coppelius, who invents mechanical dolls to bring movement to his empty rooms. Boieru's elfin spirit and comic sense make Dr. Coppelius a humorous rather than frightening figure, and he moves beautifully – even as a doddering, half-crippled old man. It is always a pleasure to see him. De la Barre is perfect as the handsome, distractable young swain who learns the value of loyalty in the course of the story.
But it was Vigo who carried the three-act ballet. From month to month, she increases in strength and poise, and now we see that she has developed considerable acting talent as well. Thinking back to the Carolina Ballet's earlier production of this work, remembering her as she was nearly five years ago, it is impossible not to feel thrilled by her metamorphosis from a talented pretty girl into a beautiful, powerful ballerina. She was bewitching in the long scene where Swanhilda pretends to be the doll Coppelia come to life – and when Dr. Coppelius' back is turned, reverts to her live-girl self, trying to revive and rescue the drugged Franz. Her effortless, flawless switching between the two characters was dazzling.
As marvelous as Vigo was, it is the crowd of dancers that make this ballet the enjoyable entertainment that it is. Without the passels of frisky dancers in their pretty costumes, Coppelia would not give as much pleasure. The men, led by Christopher Rudd, gave us a bold Mazurk, and later Maximilien Baud, Rudy Candia, and Sergey Kheylik excelled in their drunken antics. Lara O'Brien led the Czardas with panache and later appeared in a lovely pas de quatre with Claudia Schreiber, Dameon Nagel, and Wei Ni.
We got to see Margaret Severin-Hansen briefly in the "Dance of the Hours," in which she soars like the arc of time over the little minutes. Hong Yang and Attila Bongar defined elegance in their pas de deux, "Goodness." Heather Eberhardt brought a spiritual delicacy to her solo in "Prayer," and Alessia Gelmetti stood out in her solo as Dawn. Gelmetti, who is new to the company this season, has been noticeable among the ensembles, and this first look at her in a solo shows that she is capable of energizing the whole stage on her own.
In short, this production of Coppelia is a delight. Its only failing lay in the use of recorded music (that was not quite loud enough). One understands the financial realities that prevent the use of live musicians, but, but, but – ballet is simply not as glorious without them.