The mission of Chamberlain Performing Arts is to enrich their community with quality ballet productions and outreach programs. What better way to accomplish this than by offering a complimentary performance of the classic comic ballet Coppélia to the underserved members of the North Texas community? While the general public got to savor the ballet for an evening performance on Saturday night, a select group was invited for the Community Connections Performance earlier that afternoon at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson.
This outreach program was started in the 1990s by Morrie Chamberlain, Sr., father of CPA artistic director Kathy Chamberlain and chairman of the board of directors. His vision was to give back to a community that had supported the organization. Each year a committee works with local non-profit and social service organizations to bring in underserved members of the community, including those with special needs.
In talking with Ms. Chamberlain, she recalled a few poignant stories of how these performances had positively affected those children with special needs and their parents. Those tales speak volumes about the power of dance to touch the life of a human being. From the reactions of those in the audience during and after the performance, the ballet definitely moved these patrons.
So what did they see that generated such a joyful response?
The curtain opened to a statuesque female figure perched on the balcony of the home of Dr. Coppélius (Valentine Liberatore), an eccentric toymaker. Swanilda (Mishic Marie Liberatore), a young woman of the town, attempts to give a friendly curtsy to the girl (known as Coppélia), but gets no response. Angrily, she storms off and her boyfriend Franz (Dallas Blagg) enters the scene, completely enamored by Coppélia. The lack of acknowledgement doesn't seem to bother him.
Jealous of Franz's affections, Swanilda brushes him off when he tries to apologize. After a lively dance involving all of the townspeople, however, the two seem to make up. Later, she and her friends sneak into Dr. Coppélius' house, unaware that her boyfriend has the same intentions.
Act II takes place inside the dark and mysterious workshop where Swanilda and friends find that the life-sized figures scattered around the room, including Coppélia, are merely dolls. The doctor finds the intruders and furiously expels them from his house.
At that time, Franz enters through the balcony, but Dr. Coppélius welcomes him to take place in a diabolical plot. In order to make his beloved Coppélia doll come to life, he needs a human sacrifice. As he makes his plans to transfer Franz's spirit into the body of his doll, Swanilda (who had been hiding in the workshop the whole time) intervenes. Dressed as Coppélia, she pretends to be the doll that has come to life in order to distract the toymaker. After a humorous interaction, she rescues Franz and Dr. Coppélius is left mourning his lifeless doll and the failure of his spell.
But he's not done with the couple yet. Act III opens with the wedding of Franz and Swanilda, but the doctor interrupts demanding to be recompensed for the trouble caused. Swanilda's dowry seems to do the trick and the wedding dances continue, closing with a pas de deux between the happy couple.
The production is beautifully cast. Every dancer has a role that perfectly suits his or her abilities. Ms. Liberatore, a former Chamberlain student and Cinncinati Ballet senior soloist, seamlessly intertwines dancing and acting with flawless technique and a believable youthfulness. Her adagio movements have an angelic blend of sustainment and pristine technique, while her petit allegro is dashing and light as a feather. Mr. Liberatore perfectly embodies the physical character of the bizarre genius, and his varied facial expressions bring the charming hilarity needed for the light-hearted ballet.
While Blagg's performance isn't as strong as the two above, he exudes a laid-back, boyish charm that makes his character very likeable. His dancing, as usual, is effortless and exciting.
For the most part, the company members handle the ensemble choreography pretty well. Inconsistencies with timing and performance quality show here and there, but overall they execute the movements with strength and uniformity. The men's dances are especially thrilling.
The pantomime and acting choreography is actually one of the best parts about the performance. Ballet choreographers, dancers, and fans have had their strong opinions about pantomime throughout the course of history; this version of the classic ballet elegantly blends the literal gestures into the dance moves. Here, the dramatizing feels more like part of the dance. This is partly due to the musicality; the movements fit so well with the music, it's as if the body is creating the sounds with each gesture. More importantly, though, it's a credit to the performance skills of the dancers.
All of those elements create an enjoyable viewing experience for people of all ages.