Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coppelia, and "Everything is Awesome"

I went to the matinee performance of Coppelia today at the NYCB and Tiler Peck was, as expected, amazing as Swanilda. Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova (herself a great Swanilda) carefully reconstructed from memory the Leon/Petipa choreography. As a result, NYCB's Coppelia might always surprises me in how closely it adheres to other standard productions of Coppelia. The traditional mime and storytelling have been lovingly preserved. Even Balanchine's "reworked" third act is remarkably similar to the Bolshoi's recent reconstruction of Coppelia -- the pas de deux even ends with the same leaping fishdive. So if you expect edgy, experimental choreography, Coppelia is not for you -- it has the cuteness of every other Coppelia.

Why see it at all then? Well, for one, even though ABT does a fine Coppelia, they're a smaller company. Their Coppelia always looks like a pickup company -- a star turn with a bare-bones corps de ballet. The ABT streamlines the ballet a bit and moves the czardas to the last act. The NYCB dances this ballet like a company ballet. Balanchine utilized the NYCB's full arsenal of a large corps de ballet along with students from the SAB. He added some variations for the male (unusual for him, to add more male solos). There's Delibes' evergreen, lovely score. And there's NYCB's showcase of ballerinas who really seem to relish a role where they're expected to act. There's an energy and joy to the NYCB ballerinas when they step out of their leotards and into the frilly tutus. It's hard to explain, but I noticed it during their run of Sleeping Beauty last year too -- whereas other companies might rush through the mime, the NYCB ballerinas articulated it as if it was the most fascinating movement ever. A lot of Auroras in other companies will try not to emphasize the balances in the Rose Adagio -- the City Ballet ballerinas were determined to hold onto each of them with rock-solid security, as if to show the doubters that yes, they can do Petipa classics. There's a similarly happy vibe to their Coppelia.

Today's Swanilda, Tiler Peck, usually exudes all-American wholesomeness. But she was terrifying as Swanilda. Her Swanilda's a real bitch, and that's as it should be. Peck came out of her village house pouty and demanding, and pretty much stayed that way. Her crisp footwork accentuated her brittle, ambitious "Tracy Flick" personality. In the second act when she impersonated the doll she was really vicious, using her limbs as weapons to torture poor Dr. Coppelius. Peck is so musical that she timed all her "doll-like" movements perfectly to the music, and hardened her arms, so when she "accidentally" pushed over Coppelius's dolls, or kicked Coppelius, the actions had a delightful sadism. When the doll started to really DANCE in the Scottish dance she was dynamic and flew around the stage. She's a treasure. Loved her.

Andrew Veyette (Franz) was not on her level. There wasn't much wrong with him, but Veyette's a little too serious to play the boyish, flaky Franz. There wasn't much humor or charm in his portrayal. He also has hard landings, tricky when Balanchine designed the role with lots of jumps and air turns. But I heard that the night before he stepped in for an injured Joaquin de Luz so he might have been very tired. He certainly looked it. The ABT's lineup of showier men like Herman Cornejo or (in the past) Angel Corella are more appropriate for the role. Robert La Fosse was poignant as the hapless Dr. Coppelius. He wasn't sinister, just a weird loner, and it hurt your heart a little to see Swanilda and her friends ridiculing him.

The children of the SAB were absolutely wonderful in the final act, they served as the corps de ballet and flooded the stage with their immaculate patterns, shapes, and stage manners. All the solo variations were excellent. Ashley Isaacs (still listed as a corps member) was a standout in the brief but lovely "Dawn" variation.

After the ballet I went to see The Lego Movie with a friend. I didn't expect much at all from the movie besides some mindless entertainment. But it was unexpectedly funny, creative, and touching all at once. I expected the movie to parody many blockbuster action franchises, and it did that with aplomb, but even better were the parodies of contemporary music. The theme song "Everything is Awesome" is a mind-numbingly catchy parody of pop megahits, and even better was the parody of death metal that accompanied the movie's Lego Batman. The storyline is a lot deeper than first meets the eye -- well, I won't spoil it, but let's just say "The Lego Movie" is actually not about legos at all. Go see it. It's sweet, funny and memorable, and I think will become an animated classic along the lines of Finding Nemo or Toy Story.

And now, once again, "Everything is Awesome!"

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