Weekend Highlights

Published June 6, 2012
Going Places

A Parent’s Review: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia

by Lynn Schnaiberg
seattle child article photo
Swanilda’s friends (PNB company dancers) explore Dr. Coppelius' mysterious workshop in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia.
Photo © Angela Sterling.

seattle child article photo
Dr. Coppelius (Peter Boal) greets his creation Coppélia (Carli Samuelson) in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia.
Photo © Angela Sterling.


That was the first word out of my 9-year-old daughter’s mouth when the red curtain rose on Coppélia’s gorgeous opening scene, with boughs of wisteria framing a storybook set of blue and white village houses.

Set in an Eastern European town, this comic ballet tells the tale of two young lovers, a mad inventor and his amazingly lifelike mechanical doll. Swanilda and Franz are in love, until a new beauty appears on the mysterious Dr. Coppelius' balcony, blowing kisses to Franz and making Swanilda green with envy. When Swanilda sneaks into the doctor's workshop to deal with her supposed competition and only finds a room full of dolls, the madness begins.

Swanilda dresses up in the doll’s clothing and pretends to be Coppélia; Franz is drugged by Dr. Coppelius, who tries to transfer Franz’s life force into the doll to make her real. In the end, the truth is revealed and Swanilda and Franz are happily married in the town square during a decadent festival. First brought to America in 1974 by legendary choreographer George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet, Coppélia hits PNB’s stage for the second time (it debuted here in 2010).

Although it’s long (two and a half hours with two intermissions), Coppélia makes for a terrific family-friendly ballet. The herky-jerky dancing of four other mechanical dolls in the topsy-turvy Act II, set in Dr. Coppelius’ workshop, made my daughter laugh out loud. There’s also plenty of sparkly glam with lavish costumes (from princesses to Roman gladiator), stellar dancing and the chance for aspiring dancers to see a corps de ballet of 10- to 14-year-old ballet school students dancing as “mini princesses” in Act III. My daughter also liked scanning the sets for hidden initials (for Balanchine and others) after reading the “Director’s Notebook” in the program.

If your child struggles to sit still or stay quiet for the performance’s duration, you can bring them to the lobby and watch on one of the monitors (see PNB’s website for tips on attending ballet with children). Snacks (including $4 cookies and brownies) can be pre-purchased and set out for you at intermission. Each show includes a free pre-performance lecture and a post-performance Q&A with dancers and Artistic Director Peter Boal. Free dance classes for kids taught by PNB faculty are offered an hour before each matinee performance. Kids can also make butterflies or bookmarks at the lobby craft table before the show or during intermissions.

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If You Go...

Where: McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle.

When: Thursday, June 7, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 9, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 10, 1 p.m. Matinees include crafts, dance classes and entertainment.

Admission: $28 to $168.

Contact: PNB Box Office, 206-441-2424; www.pnb.org/Season/11-12/Coppelia.

More About This Story...

Seattle's Child Calendar Editor, Barb Kittell, offers this feedback after bringing her wee one to the production:

Pacific Northwest Ballet recommends that if a child can sit through a movie, he or she can probably sit through a ballet. I worried I may be putting this notion to the test in bringing my barely 3-year-old daughter to Coppélia and, much to my delight, she was as enchanted with the production as I was.

We had talked ahead of time about the importance of being quiet and holding still, and the two intermissions provided helpful breaks to talk, practice dance moves in the aisle and peek into the orchestra pit. My daughter had two booster cushions on which to perch, but often preferred my lap where I could whisper the storyline to her. She followed the story surprisingly well, and when I asked what she liked best about the show, she replied, “When the girls sneaked into the workshop. And the big girls had beautiful dresses.”