Nothing mechanical about San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Coppélia’ 

Coppélia is a mechanical doll, without a heart, but around her, San Francisco Ballet’s production of “Coppélia” sparkles with live and lively dancers, miles of heart — and muscles not to be believed.

In Sunday’s Program 5 matinee, Vanessa Zahorian danced the lead role of Swanilda with charm, grace and what must be called superhuman strength.

Each of the three acts of this spectacular piece is a different ballet, and Zahorian, partnered well by Taras Domitro, danced three roles, each the equivalent of a complete work.

In Act 1, “a village square in Galicia,” Zahorian is a playful peasant girl fascinated by a mysterious doll sitting on a balcony.

In the next act, inside dollmaker Dr. Coppelius’ secret workshop, Zahorian assumes the role of the doll and engages in a comic struggle with the evil inventor, danced by Ricardo Bustamante.

Act 3, the village wedding and “Festival of Bells,” is a classic white ballet with a lengthy, grand pas de deux for Zahorian and Domitro. (How did the peasant girl turn into a princess? We don’t know.)

For 2½ hours, including two brief intermissions, it’s nonstop performance for the principals, and they are marvelous. (Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin, Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz and Zahorian partnered by Joan Boada also appear in lead roles during the run.)

The local premiere of George Balanchine’s 1974 choreography (in collaboration with Alexandra Danilova and based on Marius Petipa’s 1870 original) has stunning sets and costumes by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, prepared for Pacific Northwest Ballet last year.

“Coppélia” is very big, featuring what seems to be the entire company, including dozens of children from the ballet school in the wedding scene and the Waltz of the Golden Hours. Decades into the future, famous dancers will include “Coppélia” in the War Memorial as stage debut on their résumés.

Léo Delibes’ familiar music, including portions of his “Sylvia,” is played with flair by the ballet orchestra under the baton of Martin West.

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story (“Der Sandmann,” also the basis of Act 2 of the opera “The Tales of Hoffmann”) is almost incidental to “Coppélia,” used only in Act 2 of the ballet. The story also has amusing, nutty non sequiturs, such as the village wedding interrupted by Greek or Roman warriors and amazons in a baroque scene called “Discord and War.”

While Zahorian has the strength to dance it all, “Coppélia’s” lengthy, often repetitious scenes may test the staying power of some of the many children in the audience.


San Francisco Ballet Program 5

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. March 22, 24-26; 7:30 p.m. March 23; 2 p.m. March 26, 27

$20 to $265

Contact: (415) 865-2000;

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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