If movement contains a dance performance's message, Dance Wisconsin's production of Coppélia (through March 24 at Madison College's Mitby Theater) communicates the joy of youth. This comedic French ballet inspires many shades of of delight as exuberant dance and clever pantomime converge.
This production's movement possesses a lively spirit, a vitality capable of eliciting nostalgia in adults and tickling the playful sensibilities of children. The narrative centers on an endearing story of young love filled with tenderness and drama. Yet Coppélia sets itself apart from run-of-the-mill romances by offering a childlike twist of the imagination.
When I arrived at Mitby Theater yesterday afternoon, a horde of young girls, toddlers to teens, filtered in with their parents. As this enthusiastic swarm made way to their seats, the audience became a sea of glitter-encrusted Mary Janes and faux-fur accessories. Gradually, the dim theater turned into a shimmering expanse of petite fashionistas, many of whom carried well-dressed dolls.
This was fitting, considering that the story's namesake, Coppélia, is a life-sized doll caught up in a scenario of innocent turmoil. As the lights faded and curtains raised, I found myself moved by the girls' excitement. Joyous music and blithe dancing spurred the production into action. Bright patterns and airy silhouettes leapt and whirled across the stage, and Kathy McCaughey's costume design created a fairytale-like aesthetic.
The ballet begins with the female lead, Swanhilda, attempting to capture Coppélia's attention. The doll's maker, Dr. Coppélius, is an alchemist purported to have magical gifts. He sits the doll in his upstairs window with a book in her hands. Swanhilda fears that her love interest, Franz, is enamored with the doll, which leads to jealousy and bickering. Franz seeks to find out more about Coppélia, while Swanhilda, having a similar motivation, ventures into the alchemist's house with her friends.
Once inside the house, Swanhilda and company are alarmed to find a slew of dolls. Leo Delibes' score shifts seamlessly from lighthearted to foreboding in this scene, offering an expressive backdrop for the plot. The rich hues of the dolls' costumes and dark color scheme of the doctor's house give the story emotional and visual depth.
During Swanhilda's quest to win Franz's affection, trouble and laughter ensue. Throughout the production, Ashley Dahm and Jonathan Person have wonderful chemistry in their portrayals of the squabbling yet lovable couple. Their relationship's fickleness enhances the production's air of innocence while adding to its comic appeal. The two shine in their performances with regards to not only technical skill but their artistic embodiment of the characters.
While some may find the production too saccharine, I found it inventive and enjoyably youthful. It ends Dance Wisconsin's 2012-13 season on a positive, playful note.
The final performance takes place today at 2 p.m.