The Pacific Northwest Ballet's completely charming new production of Coppélia is proof positive that there is family-friendly ballet beyond the Nutcracker – which is not to knock one of our family's favorite holiday traditions.
This new production for PNB is both gorgeous and funny, with sets and costumes that look like they came right out of a storybook. And, much to the delight of my 7-year-old, Coppélia features a corps de ballet of 10- to 14-year-old ballet school students, placing the dream of dancing within reach of the very young dancers among us.
Coppélia, which was introduced to America by George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet, has rarely been seen outside of New York City, and this production brings it to PNB's stage for the very first time. PNB calls Coppélia "the happiest ballet on earth," which may be because it follows one of the silliest stories.
In an Eastern European town, young lovers Swanilda and Franz quarrel because Franz falls in love from afar with Coppélia, completely unaware that she is, in fact, an extraordinarily lifelike mechanical doll. Swanilda takes her friends up into the workshop of Dr. Coppelius, the doll's creator, to get a look at her supposed rival. At the same time Franz climbs a ladder up to the second-story workshop to find out who the beautiful "girl" he has seen really is.
By the time Dr. Coppelius arrives, Swanilda has dressed in the doll's clothing and is pretending to be Coppélia. Franz ends up drugged by the good doctor, who hopes to transfer his life force into his mechanical doll to make her real. See what I mean by silly? In the end, the truth is revealed, and Franz and Swanilda end up marrying in the town square during a grand celebration.
The second act, in Dr. Coppelius' workshop, features four other mechanical dolls, whose jerky dancing made my daughter laugh out loud. And Lesley Rausch, who danced Swanilda at the performance we saw, effectively hammed it up as both the indignant Swanilda and human stand-in for Coppélia. The 24 student dancers were far more than just cute; they danced beautifully. And the festivities in the final act offered a showcase of the fine dancing for which PNB is known.
A word about going to the ballet with children: For shows like Coppélia that are geared to families as well as adult ballet-goers, you do get a little more leeway in the whispering and squirming department – but only to a point. We had to take my very squirmy 5-year-old out into the lobby to watch the show on one of the monitors; we were then able to take her into a "quiet room" at the rear of the First Tier where she could view the performance through a window, chatting all the while. Know your kid and act accordingly. I'll just add that the $25 tickets offer perfectly good views of the stage.
PNB's Web site includes helpful hints for enjoying the ballet with children at www.pnb.org/Community/PNBKids/FAQ.aspx. It's a good idea to talk about the story before you go, so kids will have an easier time following the storyline. The matinees on Saturday and Sunday, June 12 and 13, feature pre-show activities and crafts for kids.
IF YOU GO
Where: McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer Street, Seattle.
When: Thursday, June 10, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, June 11, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday June 12, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 13, 1 p.m. Dress-up matinees include crafts, dance classes and entertainment.
Admission: $25 to $160.
Contact: PNB Box Office, 206-441-2424; email@example.com; www.pnb.org/Season/09-10/Coppelia/#Tickets.
Ruth Schubert is the managing editor of Seattle’s Child.