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Comedy in 'Coppelia' keeps dancers on their toes

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Thursday, April 12, 2012, 5:19 p.m.

In a season of performances, amid the excitement of new works, there is always room for the satisfaction of old favorites, such as the ballet "Coppelia."

"It's a ballet about comedy and love, about artistry with some super dancing. That's why it's lasted so long and why people always ask me if I'm bringing it back," says Terrence S. Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's artistic director.

"I think this is the best production of 'Coppelia' across the country," he says. "Of course, that's a biased point of view, but a lot of people tell me that, too."

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present "Coppelia" Friday through Sunday at the Benedum Center, Downtown. The popular music by Leo Delibes will be performed by Charles Barker and Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra.

"Coppelia" was first performed in 1870 by the Paris Opera Ballet. The three-act ballet was created by choreographer Arthur Saint-Leon, librettist Charles Nuitter and Delibes, based on short stories by German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann.

The ballet is about Swanhilde and Franz and their usual detour on the way to the altar.

"It's the sort of love relationship with games being played when flirting and courting each other," Orr says. "The one-upmanship goes through the whole story. While going through all that, Frantz also notices this other beautiful girl on the balcony of Dr. Coppelius' house. He invites her to come down, not realizing that she's a doll."

In Act II in Dr. Coppelius' home, Swanhilde and her friends discover his life-size mechanical dolls. When he returns home, he kicks them out. Shortly thereafter, he welcomes Frantz and gives him drugged wine. But Swanhilde saves the day and her guy.

The final act is a celebration which, with a bump in the road from Dr. Coppelius, leads to the marriage intended at the start of the ballet.

Principal dancers Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski will portray Swanhilde and Frantz at two of the three performances. Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva will perform those roles Saturday night. Each couple on stage is married in real life.

Swanhilde is "really fun to play," Kochis says. "She's very, very vibrant and feisty, not an ever-suffering heroine. She's her own woman and takes matters into her own hands. She's not going to be one upped by Frantz."

Playing opposite her husband in the ballet, she admits, "I do think Chris and I have our own little friendly competition at times."

The comedy of the second act is her favorite part of "Coppelia."

"Really, it's you and Dr. Coppelius on the stage for a good half hour. And playing off each other, it's really easy to get lost in the story. I really get into it," she says. "The construction of the ballet and the way Terry (Orr) uses the music really helps the comedy come through so much more. If you hit the accents where he wants you to, it comes to life and emphasizes all the funny moments."

"Coppelia" will cap what Kochis calls a dream season.

"I've had a really fantastic year," she says. "I've gotten to dance with Chris a lot. The pieces we've gotten to do helped push me into ways I need to grow, such as working with John Neumeier" on his "A Streetcar Named Desire."

"Now, doing 'Coppelia' really strengthens my classical work."

Like his wife, Budzynski loves the transition from the ballet's previous production. They revel in the range of styles which dancing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre affords them.

"The wonderful thing about 'Coppelia' is that it's definitely a classical ballet, with some bravura jumps and turns for the men," he says. "This also has the comedic aspect in the second part. There's a lot of wonderful mime. It's really a hoot to work on, especially Steve Hadala, who's our Dr. Coppelius, working out the timing with the music."

Barker is excited to be conducting "Coppelia" again in Pittsburgh, and under much better conditions than his debut seven years ago. Then, the orchestra, after a one-year hiatus, was being reassembled for a single performance, opening night, with just a single rehearsal. This time, the musicians have two rehearsals plus the dress rehearsal.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't like Delibes' scores," Barker says. "They're engaging in that mid-19th century French style. The quality of composition is as high as the Tchaikovsky ballets. ... When you listen to Tchaikovsky, at least when I listen to it, I hear all these references back to Delibes, not only orchestrationally but also harmonically.

"'Coppelia' is one of those scores that are always interesting not only for the audience but for the musicians and for the stage as well," he continues. "It's similar in this way to the other great ballet scores -- 'Romeo' or Tchaikovsky ballets or Stravinsky ballets -- although not in the same style."

Additional Information:


Produced by: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $22.75-$90.75

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or



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