x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

American Ballet Theatre’s Coppélia finds true love amid the fakery

The American Ballet Theatre is staging a production of Coppelia as part of Abu Dhabi Festival’s focus on the United States as Country of Honour.

Xiomara Reyes and Ivan Vasiliev of American Ballet Theatre will perform Coppélia at the Abu Dhabi Festival on March 28 and 29, 2014. Courtesy Rosalie O'Connor
Xiomara Reyes and Ivan Vasiliev of American Ballet Theatre will perform Coppélia at the Abu Dhabi Festival on March 28 and 29, 2014. Courtesy Rosalie O'Connor

It’s one of the most beloved ballets in the canon – and it’s being brought to Abu Dhabi by one of America’s premier dance companies.

Coppélia was first staged in Paris in 1870 and has gone on to become an important part of dance theatre repertoire all over the world. The American Ballet Theatre (ABT), founded in 1937 and based in New York, first performed Coppélia in 1968 and is bringing its revised version to the Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF) on Friday.

ABT will epitomise American culture and its history of the performing arts as part of the ADF’s focus on the United States, this year’s Country of Honour.

“Coppélia is a western classical ballet that people identify with,” says Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s artistic director, who began his career with the company in 1979 as a principal dancer. “But ballet is still viewed as a European art form. We pride ourselves on being a company that brings American dance to the world through our ­productions.

“Companies around the world have developed their own style, which is defined by national temperament and a certain physical movement,” continues McKenzie.

“American ballet, for instance, has an energetic approach and dancers are required to incorporate more than one style.” This experimental approach, he says, sets ABT apart from other dance companies.

Coppélia, which ABT performs around the world on rotation with other ballets, was chosen for the ADF because of its universal themes. “It is about a person who falls in love with his own creation,” explains McKenzie. “It is light-hearted and friendly, too, so our presenters thought it would be appealing to families who attend the festival.”

Coppélia is a life-size dancing doll placed by her creator, the inventor and toy maker Dr Coppelius, on his balcony; a young villager called Franz spots her and, believing her to be human, becomes infatuated with her. He forgets about his commitment to his lover Swanhilde and ends up making a deal with Dr Coppelius, who asks Franz for his soul as the price for bringing the doll to life. But Swanhilde comes up with a clever plan and saves her beau from the clutches of the evil doctor.

ABT’s first Coppélia production was choreographed by the ballet master Enrique Martinez in 1968 and ran successfully for several years, but was criticised at the time for being a watered-down version of the original.

“Enrique’s version was very entertaining and he took a lot of liberties with the story,” says McKenzie. “But then I wanted to come back and trace the original and bring back the historic reference.”

The late ballet star Frederic Franklin staged a revival of the show for ABT in 1997 and also directed and staged it at other theatres including the National Ballet of Washington, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Milan’s La Scala, using the original score from 1870 by Léo Delibes.

McKenzie says the audience at the Abu Dhabi Festival can look forward to a stimulating performance.

“Theatre is a platform where assumptions can be challenged and where one engages the intellect. In this case, ballet is our means of communication,” he says. “So you’ll see a combination of dancers and their ability to create energy through mime and body language.”

• The American Ballet Theatre performs Coppélia with the Dresden Philharmonic at Emirates Palace Auditorium on Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are available at Virgin Megastore outlets and are priced from Dh125. Visit www.abu­dhabifestival.ae for details

aahmed@thenational.ae