Cute was one word thrown around by audience members after the opening performance of Coppélia by the Maine State Ballet Thursday night. Fun and fantastic would also seem appropriate words to use in describing the company’s treatment of the classic ballet which has long been known for its broad appeal.

Set to recorded music by Delibes, this Coppélia had something for just about everyone. For serious ballet fans, there was impressive dancing. For those who like a strong dose of comedy, there was plenty of that. And for those who like to be dazzled with a little mystery and magic, this work delivered. In fact, all together, it may verge on being just a little bit too much of too many good things. But, in the hands of Maine State Ballet performers, it all came together and made for a highly entertaining evening.

The ballet’s story concerns the romantic adventures of a young man named Franz, who is infatuated with what he believes to be a beautiful young woman. Coppélia, though, is actually a doll made by the eccentric Doctor Coppélius. Franz’s spirited and resourceful girlfriend Swanhilda, in order to save her man from the evil designs of the doctor, impersonates the doll and effects an escape. All that leads to a festive wedding.

Rhiannon Pelletier and Maiki Saito danced the lead roles. Each brought personality and style in performances which required a good deal of mime acting in addition to dance. Pelletier was particularly good at bringing out Swanhilda’s determination without sacrificing her character’s girlish moodiness. When she and her friends react to the male dancers’ antics or venture into the doll maker’s workshop, their responses, though exaggerated, ring both true and very funny. When Pelletier pretends to be Coppélia come to life, her evolving movements and manipulations of the doctor are especially engrossing.

Saito emphasized his character’s boyishness as he and his buddies size-up and woo the local girls. His athleticism was also well on display in a series of leaps across the stage. Frederick Bernier, as the doll maker with a little magic up his sleeve, added a touch of poignancy to his actions but was most noteworthy for his off-balance comedic postures.

In terms of the more formal dance passages, the principals’ best moments came during their final duet, with lifts and turns serving to accentuate the newfound maturity their characters had found in marriage. Some always-popular fouette turns were a particular highlight of Pelletier’s work in the third act.

A few heavy landings notwithstanding, the various ensemble passages and special folk interludes were ably handled by the impressive corps, including many youngsters. Performers, too numerous to mention all here by name, filled the stage during elaborate celebratory passages and divertissements. It was a treat to see Maine State stalwarts Janet and Glenn Davis in a brief duet near the close.

Choreographer Linda MacArthur Miele obviously thought both big and small in preparing this impressive production. With costume and scenic designer Gail Csoboth and lighting and technical designer Frederick Bernier (doing double duty), she has pulled together a Coppélia with much to offer local audiences.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.