Long before Julie "Catwoman" Newmar played a robot in the short-lived '60s TV sitcom My Living Doll (episodes of which have just been released on DVD, if you're into that sort of thing), another, different kind of mechanized gal was breaking somebody's heart. Her name? Coppélia.
She was the creation of one toymaker/mad scientist (aren't they all?), Dr. Coppélius. Both characters originated in an 1870 romantic comic ballet titled Coppélia, written by maestro Arthur Saint-Léon (who also did the choreography) and Charles Nuitter, with music by Léo Delibes.
This weekend, the beautiful automaton that Saint-Léon and Nuitter built comes back to life in the Miami City Ballet's revival of Coppélia, which caps the company's 26th season.
Coppelia's protagonist, Franz, has his heart
set on Swanilda. But he can't help but become infatuated with Coppélia, who's
such a doll. Dr. Coppélius, meanwhile, harbors devious plans for the
young man: He wants to transfer Franz's soul to his masterpiece and have her
Swanilda is no forest flower, however, and so she goes to
fight for her man. Spoiler alert: She dresses up as the doll and rescues
Franz. The ending is a happy one, with the flesh and blood lovers
reunited. Everyone in town dances, and even the good doctor comes out
winning something too.
For Mary Carmen Catoya, one of the MCB principal dancers who will be
playing the role of Swanilda (alternating with Jeanette Delgado),
Coppélia brings back heartwarming memories that date back to her early
teens in Venezuela.
"I had danced Coppélia, the Vicente Nebrada version, in Caracas, when I
was 14 or 15," shares the 38-year-old dancer after a long day of
rehearsals. "I played the role of Swanilda in a production that was held
in honor of Margot Fonteyn, who liked it, at the Teresa Carreño
Catoya, who danced with the Cleveland
Ballet and the Ballet Contemporáneo de Caracas before coming to the
Miami City Ballet in 1999, says that to inhabit that character at such different stages of her life is a
"A dancer doesn't know how enjoyable maturity can be until she's
stepping on it," she explains. "Now, I am having even more fun playing
Swanilda. She is a girl who is spoiled, capricious, playful, but she's
also a fighter. She's fighting for Franz's love."
Catoya's partner on stage, principal dancer Reyneris Reyes, plays Franz.
"I had never done the whole ballet, only the main pas de deux of the
third act," says Reyes, originally from the province of Pinar del Río,
Cuba, and who trained at the Escuela Nacional de Ballet and danced under
the direction of Alicia Alonso at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. "It is always a challenge to accept a new role, even though it's not so
new for me because I have danced the pas de deux and been in the corps
Based on two old, macabre short stories, The Sandman and The Doll, both by German author, composer,
critic, and artist E.T.A. Hoffmann, Coppélia
has gone through various incarnations, as choreographers have adapted it
to their taste and vision. Maurice Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Enrico
Cecchett, George Balanchine, Alicia Alonso, and Peter Dizozza have all given it their own interpretations. But MCB founding artistic director Edward Villella has kept
Saint-Léon's original choreography.
"All these classical ballets, the people who stage them, like Villella,
and oneself as a dancer, always look for something that can relate to
today," says Reyes. "And here, the comedy and the choreography still hold
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd.;
tickets range from $19 to $169; 877-929-7010; arshtcenter.org.
--Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie, artburstmiami.com