Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Coppélia” is a droll charmer perfect for spring.
Despite its age, the ballet has a freshness and wit captivating to a modern audience. The choreography was created in 1974 by George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova, renowned for her Swanilda, and based on Marius Petipa’s even earlier 1884 staging.
In “Coppélia,” Swanilda and Franz’s young love is disrupted when Franz falls for the lifelike mechanical doll of the ballet’s title created by the village toymaker, Dr. Coppelius. While the story is told with mime periodically substituting for dialogue, the stodginess of that old-fashioned convention quickly vanished, due in part to the contemporary feel of the characters, starting with the feisty Swanilda.
On opening night, Lesley Rausch was inspired as the cheeky Swanilda, who isn’t about to let her “rival” get the best of her. Swanilda and her friends sneak into Coppelius’ workshop, and when the doctor returns before Swanilda can escape, she dons Coppélia’s clothing and impersonates the doll.
Rausch’s mechanical doll movements were completely convincing, and her seeming transformation into impudent life under Coppelius’ magic was a delight to watch.
Jerome Tisserand’s Franz was all youthfully raging hormones and boyish leaps, falling in love at the drop of a hat. His pas de deux with Rausch in the final act, along with several back-and-forth solos, was breathtaking.
As Dr. Coppelius, William Lin-Yee impressively contorted his youthful dancer’s body into a bent-backed but spryly hobbling, old man. He was, by turns, funny, creepy, a little scary and sympathetic in his lonely obsession with Coppélia and his pursuit of bringing her to life.
Pretty in pink, 24 girls ages 10 through 13 from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School dance as the corps de ballet for about 20 minutes. Balanchine didn’t wimp out on his choreography for the youngsters — this is complex work, placing high demands on them, commensurate with the regard Balanchine had for his students’ skill.
A testament to the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, the girls performed admirably on opening night, with no obvious glitches apart from one girl whose arms dropped a couple of beats too early.
Occasional bobbles in precision by the corps de ballet did not detract from the company’s lovely execution of the choreography’s intricacies and metamorphosing inventiveness. With the assistance of Judith Fugate and Garielle Whittle’s insightful staging, the final act offered one marvel of ensemble dancing after another.
Conductor Emil de Cou and the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra gave a finely nuanced performance of Delibes’ vivacious score, partnering so perfectly with the dancing onstage that it almost felt improvised to exactly fit the movement as it was happening.
Roberta Guidi di Bagno’s spring-pastel set and costumes, designed for the company’s 2010 production of “Coppélia,” and Randall G. Chiarelli’s lighting cleverly evoke the fanciful little town of Galicia in Eastern Europe. For the villagers’ homes, Delft china’s blue ornamentation meets Eastern architecture. In the doctor’s workshop, off-kilter shelves spill over with books and doll mannequins, an enormous chair is built of books and full-size mechanical dolls spring to life when touched. A dense canopy of wisteria frames a village square of tiled columns and enormous painted town bells.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Coppélia” performs at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.), through Sunday, April 24. For tickets or more information, visit www.pnb.org or call (206) 441-2424.