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Doll House

The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Coppelia

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Karen Gibbons-Brown, Executive and Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, explains where Coppelia fits in the canon of some of the great ballets. “The Nutcracker is magical,” she says. “Swan Lake is stunning; Cinderella is poignant; Romeo & Juliet is tragic… but Coppelia is charming.”

Based on a couple stories by ETA Hoffman (he also wrote The Nutcracker), Coppelia is about the eccentric inventor Dr. Coppelius and his daughter Coppelia, who are the subject of a lot of curiosity in their village. The doctor is a recluse, rarely taking part in village life, while his beautiful daughter can usually be seen sitting at her window reading, not talking to anyone or making friends with the village girls.

But the actual star of Coppelia, the main role, isn’t the title character — it’s Swanhilda, the “queen bee” among the village girls. Fort Wayne Ballet’s Lucia Rogers and Lauren Schlatter (a dancer in FWB’s “professionally-tracked” program) play the part in different performances, and as Gibbons-Brown tells it, it’s a fun character to play on stage. “It’s often not a ‘ballerina’ role,” she says. “It’s often done by what’s called a ‘soubrette’ dancer.”

“Soubrette” refers to a lively, flirtatious young woman. It’s originally from opera, but it fits Swanhilda perfectly — the character gets to play the queen bee, she gets to be sneaky, she gets to have a jealous fit… and, of course, she gets to dance a lot of different styles by the time Coppelia makes it to the third act. “She dances a lot of character dances; she does a Scottish jig; she does a Spanish flamenco style dance; a doll dance, where she’s very stiff…” Gibbons-Brown says. “So there’s a significant range of emotions that the character must explore and play for the story to work.”

Also, unlike many other great ballets, there’s nothing really “ethereal” about Swanhilda; she remains a real world girl throughout the story. “She’s not a fairy-type creature, she doesn’t become one,” says Gibbons-Brown. “She’s a real girl, all the way through.”

And what growth or transformation Swanhilda does go through is also true to life. “You see her mature,” says Gibbons-Brown. “She starts out as an impertinent teenager, and she passes through remorse and understanding.”

Swanhilda is engaged to Franz (Sam Shapiro), who lately has been mooning over the distant Coppelia. Curious about her new rival and the enigmatic doctor, Swanhilda sneaks into Dr. Coppelius’s workshop with her friends — on the very same evening that Franz decides to climb up to the balcony and meet Coppelia.

What they find is a workshop full of life-like dolls, the most beautiful and life-like being Coppelia. Coppelius returns, and all the village girls escape before they’re discovered, with the exception of Swanhilda, who pretends to be one of the dolls. Coppelius puts Franz to sleep with some sort of potion, with the plan of bringing Coppelia to life (it’s a fairy tale). At some point, Swanhilda gets tired and decides enough is enough. “She wakes Franz up, says ‘you crazy, dumb boy; you’ve fallen in love with a doll,’ and brings the lifeless Coppelia to doctor,” says Gibbons-Brown.

Gibbons-Brown tells me that that’s how the story originally ended — with Coppelius’ dreams of having a daughter and companion destroyed. But, apparently deciding that the ending was too much of a downer, and that an old recluse living alone in a house full of dolls was a little too creepy, the ballet’s original producers asked for a third act, where Swanhilda expresses regret at what she’s done. She makes it up to Coppelius by having him included in village life, and the village comes together to celebrate Franz and Swanhilda’s wedding. “It’s a happily-ever-after ending. All is well.”

Coppelia isn’t the only Fort Wayne Ballet production happening that weekend. On Saturday morning, March 19, there will be two performances of the children’s classic Madeline. Choreographed by FWB’s youth company director Eleonora Pokhitonova Hartung, Madeline is part of the ballet’s Family Series — short performances designed specifically for families. They take place in the Roland Gallery at the Arts United Center; families can bring a blanket, watch a short performance, and meet the dancers afterwards.

After the Saturday and Sunday matinee performances of Coppelia there will be a “Toy Shop” party, where the audience can meet some of the dancers and enjoy some sweets. Tickets for that are $8.

And… Fort Wayne Ballet is continuing its collaboration with Animal Care & Control. During the 2010 edition of The Nutcracker, two dogs available for adoption from Animal Care & Control briefly shared the stage with the dancers during every performance. The partnership was very successful — all the “Muttcrackers” found homes. So, the festival scene in the 3rd act of Coppelia will feature a four-legged guest star, and a donation barrel will be in the lobby.

The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Coppelia, with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic

All performances are held at Arts United Center, 303 East Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne

Friday, March 18 @ 8 PM (with Fort Wayne Philharmonic)
Join the Fort Wayne Ballet for the Opening Night Champagne Reception immediately following the performance. Tickets for reception: $10

Saturday, March 18 @ 2:30 PM (matinee performance; w/Fort Wayne Philharmonic)
— Toy Shop Party at 4:30 PM. Tickets: $8

Saturday March 18 @ 8 PM (with Fort Wayne Philharmonic)

Sunday, March 19 @ 2:30 PM (matinee performance; w/Fort Wayne Philharmonic)
Toy Shop Party at 4:30 PM. Tickets: $8

Tickets: Adults $28; Seniors (60+) & Youth (11-18) $25; Children (3-10) $18


Saturday, March 19, 10:00 AM & 11:30 AM
Tickets: $10

For ticket information go to fortwayneballet.org or call (260) 484-9646

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