Two performances of Coppelia in one day is a lot of mime to endure but it was worth it to see the debuts of Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews in the afternoon and then return in the evening to see the first cast to have ever danced in this particular production 14 years ago, Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella.
The matinee was packed with kids, and the ballet seemed to be a hit with a lot of them for a lot of different reasons: the clanging and banging noises and smoke coming out of Dr. Coppelius' toy workshop, the opportunity to sit atop a big velvet covered cushion on the seat, Maria acting like a doll, repeated drinks out of the water fountain at intermission, and the requisite run to the edge of the orchestra pit. Indoctrination of the young to theater-going has many facets.
The debuts of Maria and Jared were an unquestionable technical and artistic success. Maria portrayed Swanilda's mischievous and impetuous sides very naturally and her huge eyes and broad smile conveyed daring and fun simultaneously – especially when she raced around Dr. Coppelius' workshop instigating chaos by setting off all the toys in motion. The large, sweeping strokes of mime from her Swanilda and Jared's Franz registered well with the kids in the audience. Jared, who looked fabulous in both the rose colored and white tights, gave Franz a wholesome reading - not quite straw-in-the-teeth country boy charm, but very genuine and slightly unsophisticated. Their PdDs were superb - especially considering that these were debuts.
Overall, the technical performances were strong from both but for Maria's leg buckling under her during hops on pointe and a mishap with the fouettes. Her lines were lovely and secure, and her pirouettes included musical revolutions and reliable finishes. These days, Maria radiates warmth and confidence in most all of her dancing. Jared's pirouettes didn't fail him and he didn't power his jumps to the point of losing form. He approached some things conservatively while beaming confidence in his turns and tours. It was a terrific, very consistently danced debut. On to Albrecht, soon, we hope.
After seeing three different Franzes in their Act III variations display submarginal arabesques in the downstage corner, Haglund wonders what the difficulty is with getting up and over the supporting leg and getting the back leg to 90 degrees even when it's a preparatory move. All three of the Franzes performed this like they had Dr. Coppelius' back problems.
Alexei Agoudine was a fantastic Dr. Coppelius at the matinee. Haglund has seen him in bit character parts, but yesterday afternoon he really held the stage together for every moment he was on it. He was creaky old and nimble at the same time, and was hilarious when he fell over on top of the large book and proceeded to consult its pages searching for a fix to bring his doll to life. An absolute Class A job from Agoudine yesterday.
Isabella Boylston and Zhong-Jing Fang danced Dawn and Prayer in Act III - not optimal casting in Haglund's view. Isabella did not emphasize the right lyrical quality and over-employed athletic force whereas Zhong-Jing over-used her eyebrows to compensate for very unsteady supporting legs. The Mazurka folks managed well. Sarah Smith seemed a little unnecessarily nervous about her opportunity; she's a nice dancer who's entitled to more confidence. Luciana Paris and Joseph Phillips danced the lead Mazurka couple. Haglund continues to fight the idea that Phillips looks like the small version of Chuck Askegard, but he does in many ways. It would be a hoot to see them on stage together.
The evening performance with Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella was marked by high energy and total commitment to telling the story through dance. The audience was so very happy to see Angel back on stage and especially happy to see him dancing with Paloma. It must have irked McKenzie to see how much the audience loved Corella who seems to be at the top of McKenzie's ever growing black list of remarkable performers who he wishes we would forget about.
The choreography of Coppelia didn't represent any kind of a technical challenge to Paloma. Instead of trying to rev it up with circusy tricks or Olympics-sized elevation, Paloma simply used the freedom to employ her uniquely beautiful musicality. Her slow, shapely developpes a la second to just barely above 90 degrees punctuated by the stretched curve of her metatarsus were stunning without being showy. Her ability to make musical phrases last just a little bit longer or, when she felt like it, snatch them to a stop with the salute of her passe retire are why we love her. The wedding PdD in Act III with some of the most difficult partnering involving rotation of the ballerina, balancing her, and then securing her penche arabesque, was masterfully executed by Paloma and Angel. Haglund loved the way these two handled the final pose. Angel lifted and balanced the front of Paloma's torso on his shoulder rather rapidly and then utilized the last few counts of music to slowly raise his arm to match the line of Paloma's leg – all of it so beautiful. Yes, yes, yes - that's what we want to see.
Angel's own variations were wonderful the whole evening, although it did seem like some jet lag set in during his final variations. He's always fantastic but more so when we can keep him in town for a major part of the season. It would be heaven to see him in Ratmansky's Nutcracker choreography with Sarah Lane (also on the black list). Imagine how joyful and playful they would be, and that troublesome Grigorovich lift might even look like it's supposed to look. By the way, the Corella Ballet calendar is clear from November 14th through February 8th. It would be fabulous to see Angel at City Center, in The Nutcraker, and for a full season next Spring at the Met. If McKenzie is going to continue to institute his black listing, Sarah Lane should leave and join the Corella Ballet along with her husband. Luis Ribagorda had a fantastic little variation as the Harlequin Doll last evening. While he may not be tall, he has a very nice pair of legs and strong, fast turns in a la seconde.
Gemma Bond was bright and beautiful as the Lead Mazurka Lady, and looked fantastic with Angel in their character PdD. Blaine Hoven and Christine Shevchenko were handsome in the Mazurka and Czardas.
Stella Abrera and Maria Riccetto as Dawn and Prayer were once again exactly what you wanted to see. The long elegance of their port de bras and arabesque lines were perfectly matched. It looked like the Sources and Triumph of Music from Chagall's murals just happened on to the stage to demonstrate what being a ballerina is all about. Geeze Louise, why is ABT stupidly spending money on guest stars when it has these two artists?!
The evening included a celebration of Paloma Herrera's twentieth anniversary with ABT. Haglund remembers when she was a brand new, spindly-legged corps dancer with a lot of rough edges who would come to David Howard's class and positively kill any combination he set by using her internal gyroscope and balancing abilities but then frustrate his patience with her messy arms and hands. How nicely things have turned out over twenty years. And how good it was to see her dancing with Angel Corella once again. Haglund bestows this Golden Perfect Fifth Position Pump Bump Award to Paloma and Angel – the perfect pair.