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Dance Review: 'Coppelia' full of magical dance, whimsey

Friday, February 15, 2002

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance and Music Critic

Love was in the air at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre production of "Coppelia" ... along with a dose of flattery, a pinch of deceit and a liberal portion of tomfoolery. It was a potion that didn't come out of Dr. Coppelius' giant magic book but from the hand of PBT artistic director Terrence Orr.

"Coppelia" was in some ways a ballet ahead of its time (and one that has stood the test of time). The feisty Swanhilda is an early model for women's lib, all too ready to take on the world. And certainly many of the characters in the village follow suit with a fun-loving realism that can be quite engaging.

But there is always room for a little tinkering. Orr took the three main elements -- Swanhilda, her suitor and foil Franz and the oddball toymaker Dr. Coppelius -- and added a few contemporary tricks to spice up the action in last night's performance at the Benedum Center.

Franz, often a hare-brained dolt, exhibited a misplaced roving eye (and Jiabin Pan's splendid technique). It was in keeping with Orr's approach to theater and his way of beefing up the men's roles in female-dominated classics. To counter Swanhilda's accomplices, Orr also added a quartet of friends for Franz -- Richard Bowman, Christopher Jackson, Dmitri Kulev and Kenny Wang -- along with some showcase choreography for them. And Daisuke Takeuchi became "Heinz," a role that served the remarkable ballon of his jumps.

Maribel Modrono's Swanhilda was a piquant pleasure and a suitable foil for Aaron Ingley's Dr. Coppelius. His whimsical debut was full of delightful quirks (a Chaplinesque exit, a drinking contest with Franz, a hitch jump on the front stoop) that billowed from sharp coaching and a natural flair for comedy.

Orr also created some festive dances for a chamber-sized corps. Unfortunately, they started slowly last night and didn't build momentum until the third act wedding celebration, where soloist Erin Halloran was a radiant Aurora.

In another debut, conductor David Briskin led the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra with an assertive aplomb and a fine sense of tempo.

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