New York City Ballet presented “Coppelia” Thursday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the first of three performances. It was a stunning show, but the evening belonged to principal dancer Megan Fairchild.
The story is based on a fantasy by E.T.A.Hoffmann about a doll (Coppelia) that comes to life. Not realizing that she is not real, Franz (Anthony Huxley) is in love with her but also is interested in Swanilda (Fairchild). Swanilda decides to check out Coppelia and finds out she’s a doll. One thing leads to another, and Swanilda/Coppelia finally weds Frantz. All this happens over the space of three acts and Fairchild is in almost every scene.
Balanchine’s choreography to Leo Delibes’ music gets more complex, more demanding, more difficult as the show progresses. Yet Fairchild, who only recently returned to dancing after having a baby last fall, was fresh, effervescent, charming, and so light as air her feet didn’t seem to touch the floor. Always a precise dancer, her technical control let her linger a bit longer with every extension, every pose on one leg en pointe.
As Coppelia, she had to move her limbs like a wooden doll. Fairchild never missed an angle. Her balance was perfect. She was tireless. Her turns were immaculate; her pantomime convincing. Always smiling, always reaching. She danced with joy.
Huxley was the strong, solid partner. His hands were sure and allowed Fairchild to project an easy confidence especially in the many pas de deux they had in the third act. He had several solos. He got a lot of air on those big leaps. His entrechats were quick and those multiple spins in the air impressive. He acted well, too.
The production featured many from the corps, who all danced well. Four female dancers, which included Lauren King, Emilie Gerrity and Sara Adams were a delight. Some of the woodmaker’s dolls also “danced.” The one that got all the “oohs” was Kennard Henson’s acrobat, who did high splits in the air.
The huge audience was very vocal throughout the show, often cheering, clapping wildly or whistling. That was never louder than when all the almost 50 girls, who locally auditioned last March, came out in the third act. All dressed in pink tutus, they performed very well and were part of most of the final act.
Besides the sensational dancing, Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s scenery, especially of the dollmaker’s studio, was pretty. Most of the costumes were Karinska’s designs. Also impressive was how closely conductor Andrew Litton allowed the dancers to work their steps, especially Fairchlld in the third act, without forcing the pace. The orchestra, which sounded terrific, also got a loud encore from the crowd.
“Coppelia” will be performed Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The gala is Saturday night.