On Thursday evening, Bwog Internal Editor and former ballet-er headed down to Columbus Circle to catch the dress rehearsal of Columbia University Ballet Ensemble’s spring show, Coppélia. The show is playing on Saturday evening at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2pm at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center.
Not to brag, but when I was 8 years old, I starred in my hometown studio’s production of Coppélia. Okay, well, maybe not starred. I certainly was not the lead. But I was in it. I promise. Anyways, because of this fun fact, I was looking forward to heading down memory lane to go watch CUBE perform this eclectic ballet for their spring performance.
Coppélia, which dates all the way back to 1870, is a peculiar story about an evil doctor (?) who crafts dolls in his creepy haunted mansion (?). There’s a boy (Franz) who finds himself enamoured by the most beautiful doll (Coppélia herself), and a suspicious girlfriend (Swanhilda) who wonders what all the fuss is about. Upon sneaking into Dr. Coppelius’ workroom, the young girl and her friends discover a whole slew of dolls who end up (surprise) coming to life and all dancing together. There’s a little bit of an extra twist at the end, involving deceitful manipulations of reality as well as some magic potion (which is most likely just booze), but don’t worry, I won’t spoil all the juicy deets.
On stage, Dr. Coppelius (Trevor Menders) commands the room. Menders brings a melodramatic interpretation of the mysterious doll-maker, with broad gestures and a sense of rhythm that come across more as modern dance than classical ballet. Coppélia (Ellen Lou), who is dressed in a pristine white leotard and pancake tutu, sits motionless in a chair with pointe shoes perched like perfect doll.
Act 1 features Swanhilda (Sandy Zeng) dancing happily with her friends, enjoying everything from friendly ballet to fast-paced character dancing. The fun goes on until the girls find the key to Dr. Coppelius’ workshop, which he had accidentally dropped and left behind. In Act 2, they sneak into the workshop only to find dozens of life-size, stuck-still dolls. With a little bit of encouragement and some magic charms, Swanhilda and her friends are able to get all of the dolls to dance. All, that is, except Coppélia…
Okay look I’m not gonna lie. The plot gets kind of confusing from here on out. Somehow Franz (Nicholas Rio) also sneaks into the workshop, so Dr. Coppelius—who knows Franz has the hots for his doll (???)—decides to placate him with a couple of drinks. Although Franz may have somewhat sketchy intentions, Rio’s performance is bright and jovial, so you can’t help but have a soft spot for him. Then somewhere in here I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of magic switcheroo. All I know is that by Act 3, something very dramatic has happened to Coppélia, and all of Swanhilda’s friends are excited and here to dance.
Dressed in warm and romantic colors, the dancers form a sea of pretty pink flowing skirts and pointe shoes that rumble like thunder as the dancers run on and off stage. Then, in sharp contrast to their gentle movements, three male dancers dressed in all black replace the pink ballerinas and claim the stage. This trio of men is bold and in sync, executing daring jumps and turns. Shortly after they are joined by three female dancers who are also dressed in all black (aside from a pop of hot pink around their shoulders). The six dancers form three duos to perform an incredibly high-stakes and technically difficult piece. While the dancers aren’t able pull off the routine in exact synchronization, their performance is still mesmerizing.
It is the final performance by Swanhilda, however, that is truly the most magnificent. Zeng has impeccable balance that allows her to come off as both delicate and strong. Rio supports her through a sequence of elaborate lifts and pirouettes, and she hits every mark without missing a beat. Her footwork is pristine, moving through every coupé and landing every fifth position. And then suddenly it’s the finale, every colorful skirt rushing onstage at once to come together in a rainbow of candy colors.
The beautiful colors were both a joy and a relief as the rest of the stage stayed set-less and bare. In the corner there is one chair with an archway behind it, but this acts as little more than a seat for Coppélia and an entrance for Dr. Coppelius. That being said, because CUBE was able to snag the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, the stage itself came off as much more professional than, say, Roone Auditorium. The setting elevates the performance from a campus showcase to a night out on the town. Date night, anyone? After all, what’s more romantic than a guy named Franz who’s in love with a life-size doll created by a reclusive maniac doctor?
Image courtesy of CUBE Facebook