Waaay before Julie “Catwoman” Newmar played a robot in the short-lived ‘60s TV sitcom My Living Doll (episodes of which have just been released on DVD), another, different kind of mechanized gal was breaking somebody’s heart. Her name? Coppélia.
She was the creation of one toymaker/mad scientist (as always!), Dr. Coppélius, both characters from an 1870 romantic comic ballet titled Coppélia, written by maestro Arthur Saint-Léon (who also did the choreography) and Charles Nuitter, with music by Léo Delibes.
This weekend, the beautiful automaton that Saint-Léon and Nuitter built comes back to life in the Miami City Ballet’s revival of Coppélia, which caps the company’s 26th season, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts from the 22rd through the 25th. Then, it moves on to the Arsht Center in Miami (March 30-April 1), and the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (April 13-15). It is quite a treat, since the MCB has not performed it since 2003.
The plot has to do with a villager, Franz, who, although has his heart set on Swanilda, can’t help but become infatuated with Coppélia, who’s such a doll. Dr. Coppélius, meanwhile, harbors devious plans for the young man: he wants to transfer his soul to his masterpiece and have her come alive.
Swanilda is no forest flower, however, and so she goes after her man to fight for him. Spoiler alert: She dresses up as the doll and rescues Franz. The ending is a happy one, with the flesh and blood lovers reunited. Everyone in town dances, and even the good doctor comes out winning something too.
For Mary Carmen Catoya, one of the MCB principal dancers who will be playing the role of Swanilda (alternating with Jeanette Delgado), Coppélia brings back heartwarming memories that date back to her early teens in Venezuela.
“I had danced Coppélia, the Vicente Nebrada version, in Caracas, when I was 14 or 15,” shares the 38-year-old dancer after a long day of rehearsals. “I played the role of Swanilda in a production that was held in honor of Margot Fonteyn, who liked it, at the Teresa Carreño Theater.”
To inhabit that character at such different stages of her life is a thrilling experience, considers Catoya, who danced with the Cleveland Ballet and the Ballet Contemporáneo de Caracas before coming to the Miami City Ballet in 1999.
“A dancer doesn’t know how enjoyable maturity can be until she’s stepping on it,” says Catoya, whose most recent role was that of Giselle in the ballet of the same name. “Now I am having even more fun playing Swanilda. She is a girl who is spoiled, capricious, playful, but she’s also a fighter. She’s fighting for Franz’s love.”
Catoya’s partner on stage, principal dancer Reyneris Reyes, plays Franz.
“I had never done the whole ballet, only the main pas de deux of the third act,” says Reyes, originally from the province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, and who trained at the Escuela Nacional de Ballet and danced under the direction of Alicia Alonso at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
“It is always a challenge to accept a new role, even though it’s not so new for me because I have danced the pas de deux and been in the corps de ballet,” explains the 37-year-old Reyes, who left Cuba for the United States in 2004. He danced with the Boston Ballet until 2009, and in 2010 joined the MCB. “But yes, in the main role of Franz, it makes me very happy that they gave me the opportunity to play him.”
Based on two old, macabre short stories by German author, composer, critic and artist E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman and The Doll, Coppélia has gone through various incarnations, as choreographers have adapted it to their taste and vision: Maurice Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchett, George Balanchine, Alicia Alonso, and Peter Dizozza, among others. But MCB founding artistic director Edward Villella has kept Saint-Léon’s original choreography.
“All these classical ballets, the people who stage them, like Villella, and oneself as a dancer, always look for something that can relate to today,” says Reyes. “And here the comedy and the choreography still hold up.”
Coppélia on March 30 and 31 at 8:00 p.m., and April 1 at 2:00 p.m.; the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 N.E. Biscayne Blvd.; tickets range from $19 to $169; 877.929.7010; arshtcenter.org.
This article appears in Miaminewtimes.com.