Balanchine’s Coppélia is the kind of ballet that will convert the unbelievers. It charmed Pacific Northwest Ballet’s artistic director Peter Boal at the ripe old age of 9, prompting him to declare “That’s what I want to do” before he was old enough to cross the street on his own. Then Boal made it his mission to bring the classic comedy to Seattle, to re-imagine the story of two young lovers, an old toymaker and suspiciously lifelike doll with all new costumes and sets by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. And in doing so, he’s recruited at least one new fan of ballet.
Di Bagno’s vision of the 19th-century Eastern European city—all pastel pinks, blues, and greens, and delicately painted homes fit for a well-to-do Mother Goose—would be the star of the show if it didn’t have to compete with principal Kaori “Can Do No Wrong” Nakamura. Dancing the role of Swanhilda on opening night, she moved weightlessly across the stage, a delicate complement in pas de deux with the spry Jonathan Porretta as her suitor Franz. Nakamura, now a 13-year veteran for PNB, can play the flirtatious adolescent, the clown, the imp sneaking around a toymaker’s shop, and dance the role of the doll Coppélia herself, adding grace and charm to a series of steps that the less talented would reduce to the Robot Dance. (I kid, I kid, Balanchine fans. The original choreography George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova developed for the New York City Ballet in 1974 is staged impressively here.)
In rotation for the lead roles are principal dancer Mara Vinson as Swanhilda, soloist James Moore as Franz, and principal dancer Jeffrey Stanton as Dr. Coppelius; principal dancer Carla Körbes as Swanhilda, soloist Seth Orza as Franz, and principal dancer Olivier Wevers as Dr. Coppelius; soloist Lesley Rausch as Swanhilda and corps de ballet dancer Jerome Tisserand as Franz; and soloists Rachel Foster as Swanhilda and Benjamin Griffiths as Franz. But no matter the cast, Coppélia can entertain even the stingiest skeptics.
PNB’s production of Coppélia runs Thursday through Sunday at McCaw Hall.