writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Swanilda's World

New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
February 14, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 16 February 2004

If ever a dancer lived up to her name, it is New York City Ballet’s new soloist, Megan Fairchild—although, based on the audience reaction to her New York debut in Coppélia, she might as well be named Sara Lee, since it seems no one doesn’t like her. The role of Swanilda, with its precise and elegant footwork, its classical clarity, and its sunny atmosphere, suits her many talents perfectly. She did dance it last summer in Saratoga on very short notice, but this was, I think, her first scheduled performance. There was no sign of nerves, other than a brief tumble in the third act, from which she recovered with aplomb.

Fairchild is a small dancer who moves clearly with no sense of exaggeration; she sweeps rather than thrusts. Her footwork sparkles with an old-fashioned and almost moral precision. But what is most astounding in a dancer so comparatively inexperienced is her sense of the theater, her ability to create and inhabit a world. She is always reacting—to Coppélia, to Frantz, to Dr. Coppélius, and in the final act, to the music—and lets the audience see the world she is in through her extraordinarily expressive face. From her deadpan Mabel in the Stroman extravaganza to the happy Swanilda, she grabs the audience by focusing her attention on her surroundings. She creates a fourth wall which she never breaks, but it is so transparent the audience is brought into the action. The mime was not rushed or performed by rote; she was not just waving her arms when the music told her to, she was using her whole body to communicate with her fellow dancers, and by extension, the audience.

The Dr. Coppélius, Adam Hendrickson, too, was comparatively young. Hendrickson is usually used as a bounding technician, but he is an imaginative and accomplished mime. His poor Doctor was wiry and spry, with a peppery temper, brilliantly realized, with no cartoonish overtones. His awed and almost reverent reaction to Coppélia/Swanilda when he thinks he has discovered the key to creating life was eloquet, moving, and profoundly real—who of us has not been equally self-deluded? It is a shame he gets such short-shrift in Act III.

Joaquin de Luz made his debut as Frantz, and he was properly cocky and impulsive in Act I. He is an outstanding technician, as well, with beautifully centered and speedy turns. He did not seem to overpush his technique, as he occasionally does, and his dancing, like his acting, had an easy and charming flow. Physically, he is not quite right for Balanchine’s final act, where he must change from Frantz to Desiré; he just does not have the elegant classical line the choreography calls for. Some of his partnering, too, is a bit shaky, but he is a thrilling and generous performer.

Act II, set by Alexandra Danilova and based on her memories of the old Ballet Russe version, which was in turn based on the 1884 Petipa version of Arthur Saint-Leon's ballet, remains one of ballet’s most perfect acts, a seamless combination of comedy, drama, and virtuosity. It is storytelling in dance at its absolute peak. Dr. Coppélius’ attempted theft of Frantz’ soul has been more sinister in the past, but his misplaced ambition, overreaching pride, and pathetic comeuppance was conveyed with a light but sure hand.

The character dances in Act I were more full-bodied that they have been in the past, and their colorful swirl was the perfect contrast to the more elegant classical dancing. Unfortunately, Swanilda’s friends continue to be problematic. Whether it is lack of rehearsal or lack of coaching, the juicy timing of Delibes’ music and the delicate choreography, with its meticulous symmetry, elude the dancers, and they often looked jerky and sloppy. It seemed at times as if Swanilda, Frantz, and Dr. Coppélius were dancing in a different world, but fortunately, those dancers were able to create a real world and share it with the lucky audience.

Reviews of other Winter Season performances:

Some thoughts on Balanchine, with references to Arlene Croce (Gay Morris)
Prodigals, Gods, and Music: "Heritage" Week 1 at New York City Ballet (Susan Reiter)
Harlequinade (Nancy Dalva)
Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2/Harlequinade (Mary Cargill)
Double Feature (Mary Cargill)
The Show Goes On: Donizetti Variations/Scotch Symphony/Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 (Mary Cargill)
Designs that Pack a Punch:  Jewels (Susan Reiter)

Also Mindy Aloff's Letters related to the Balanchine Celebration:

Letter 14 (Balanchine Celebration; Times Talk)
Letter 15 (Midsummer Night's Dream)
Letter 16 (Double Feature)
Letter 17 (Barefoot Balanchine at Sarah Lawrence)

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 7
February 16, 2004

Copyright © 2004 by Mary Cargill



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Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Nancy Dalva
Gia Kourlas
Gay Morris
Susan Reiter
Alexandra Tomalonis(Editor)
Meital Waibsnaider
Leigh Witchel
David Vaughan


The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004