During his relatively brief career, German author, composer, critic and jurist E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) penned stories that would subsequently provide inspiration for such influential productions as Offenbach's opera “The Tales of Hoffmann” and Tchaikovsky's ballet “The Nutcracker.”
He also provided the narrative for “Coppelia,” the tale of an inventor who creates a life-size dancing doll. Based on Hoffmann's stories “The Sandman” and “The Doll,” “Coppelia,” which features a masterful score by Leo Delibes, had its premiere in Paris on May 25, 1870.
“Coppelia,” which opens Oklahoma City Ballet's 2011-12 season this week, focuses on Franz, a male suitor who becomes so infatuated with Dr. Coppelius' doll that he ignores his true love, Swanhilda. She shows him the error of his ways by dressing as the doll and pretending to come to life. In the grand tradition of 19th century Romantic ballet, Franz and Swanhilda ultimately wed.
While “Coppelia” has been presented in many versions during its 141-year history, Robert Mills, the ballet company's artistic director, opted for a traditional production that hews closely to the original choreography by Arthur Saint-Leon. Mills and Jacob Sparso are sharing choreographic duties.
“When you're choreographing a new work, the sky's the limit because it's completely open to interpretation,” Mills said. “With a classic like ‘Coppelia,' you have to decide how true to the original you want to be.
“We researched the original choreography, and we're using as much of that as we could find intact. Jacob and I are putting our own version on it by paying homage to how the original production's dances would have looked stylistically.”
Regardless of the production, every choreographer faces the challenge of getting his dancers to convey the ballet's story line as efficiently and as convincingly as possible. To achieve that, Mills and Sparso devoted considerable rehearsal time to help the dancers with their characterizations.