Beautifully imagined, Boston Ballet’s Coppélia delights with its charming sets, colorful costumes and charismatic leads. A storybook come to life, this ballet tells the fanciful tale of young love gone awry amidst a set of peculiar circumstances true to fairytale form. Coppélia, one of the great comedic ballets of the 19th century, requires suspense of realism on the part of the viewer (as most story ballets do), but once ensnared by its spell, this ballet had me grinning with amusement through to the final curtain.

Misa Kuranaga and Boyko Dossev © Gene Schiavone
Misa Kuranaga and Boyko Dossev
© Gene Schiavone

Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale Der Sandmann, with music by Léo Delibes, Coppélia is the story of Swanilda and Frantz, two flirtatious youths whose courtship is interrupted by the appearance of a new girl in town, Coppélia. Amusing situations abound until the truth is finally revealed that the pined-after Coppélia is in fact a doll, the invention of toymaker, magician and town eccentric Dr Coppélius. Swanilda now aware of her unfounded envy, and Frantz embarrassed by his love for an inanimate girl, the two reunite in a gloriously festive wedding scene in the final act. Of course, it is the finer plot points and George Balanchine’s crowd-pleasing comedic choreography that makes this ballet a joy to watch.

Misa Kuranaga takes on the role of the sassy Swanilda, with Jeffrey Cirio playing her charming yet bemused suitor. Both dancers bring their characters to life with animated facial expressions, expertly didactic gestures, and of course their stunning technical prowess. So charming is Balanchine’s brand of storytelling that I found myself chuckling during a rather slapstick scene where Swanilda, having snuck into Coppélius’ studio and now donning Coppélia’s clothes, mocks the unsuspecting toymaker who believes he has just brought his beloved doll to life with magic. Boyko Dossev played a comedically excellent Dr Coppélius with impeccable timing and a memorable and quirky character walk.

Coppélia is heavy on narrative, with limited moments in the first two acts for Kuranaga and Cirio (principal dancers and two of the strongest and most dynamic on Boston Ballet’s roster) to truly showcase their talents. However, in the final act, released from their storytelling bonds, the duo explodes in a jaw-dropping display of spectacular partnering, soaring leaps and dizzying turns that was certainly the highpoint of this production. Kuranaga’s exacting, quick-footed movements and rock-solid balances were magnificent and served as the perfect complement to Cirio’s grand jumping passes and turning sequences. I lament that these two were not afforded the opportunity to shine to this degree earlier in the ballet.

Balanchine is responsible for developing the entire third act of this ballet, in 1974, when he added Coppélia to the New York City Ballet’s repertory. Using the entirety of Delibes’ score with additional works by the composer, Balanchine’s third act, “The Festival of the Bells”, allows for Boston Ballet to showcase some of the other established and rising stars in its ranks. Adiarys Almeida leads 24 of Boston Ballet School’s young students in the “Waltz of the Golden Hours”, one of the most memorable sequences in this ballet – it is truly a joy to see the next generation of dancers on stage radiating the genuine thrill of dancing with their role models. The students remain on stage for almost the entirety of the final festive act, framing the soloists who represent the various occasions upon which the bells are to be rung – Rie Ichikawa an energetic Dawn, Ashley Ellis a beautifully somber Prayer, and Sylvia Deaton as the Spinner effortlessly completing several passes of hops en pointe.

Delibes’ romantic and colorful score is the ideal complement to this light-hearted tale – sprinkled throughout the ballet is traditional folk music including a mazurka danced by the townspeople in the opening act adding to the scene’s joviality. Marvelously imagined sets by Robert O’Hearn and Benjamin J. Phillips create the perfect atmosphere for the second act inside Dr Coppélius’ eerie studio, as well as for the final wedding scene, where bells and ribbons cascade from the ceiling in a shower of pastels. Whimsical costume designs by Kenneth Busbin and Robert O’Hearn, complete the storybook illusion with their bright colors and accents from old world European dress that we’ve come to expect in fairytales.

Overall, Boston Ballet presents a cohesive production of a very sweet ballet, one that children will relish but that could benefit from a few more moments for its stars to truly shine. Coppélia closes out Boston Ballet’s 49th season with performances through 26 May.