Coppélia with Comedic Flair


will & annaAs spring melts into summer, Swarthmore’s quiet streets come to life with plant sales, Farmer’s Markets and outdoor dining.

What better time for a production of Coppélia, the story of young love awakening and a doll who is meant to come to life? And who better to craft this tale than mother-daughter choreography team Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn of the Lori Ardis Ballet Company?

The story is the tale of beautiful Swanilda, who loves a boy called Franz, and how Franz’s fascination with a strange girl spotted reading a book in Dr. Coppelius’s window leads them both on a madcap adventure.

Anna Si dances Swanilda with the effortless-looking perfection we have come to expect from her, and the silliness of which we often forget she is capable. Will McCullough is Franz, embodying both his youthful good looks and haplessness with great abandon. The two were a joy to watch.

Eleanor Runiewicz is lovely as Coppélia (the girl in the window who, as it turns out, is only a doll). At first, I think anyone in the audience who has seen Runiewicz dance before must be a little bit heartbroken to think she will be relegated to the window for most of the production. But her classic deadpan as Coppélia sends the audience into titters as each group of villagers comes to the window to try to wave or bow to the “new girl in town”. And of course in the third Act she dances her heart out in the Waltz of the Hours, so really we get the best of both worlds.

William Hodges, whose wife and three of his children also dance in the production, plays the role of Dr. Coppelius. William’s acting chops are such that my own little dancers have begun to describe the stories of the great ballets from the point of view of the male soloists, and more specifically “Lily’s Dad”. The Nutcracker is now the ballet about how Lily’s Dad makes a beautiful nutcracker to give to his goddaughter. And of course, Coppélia is the ballet about how Lily’s Dad tries to make a real girl. Hodges is so expressive, his determination to bring Coppélia to life so great, that when it all culminates in McCullough and Si trying to escape his clutches we can see exactly what is coming, and the scene is so hilarious it brings the house down.

Maia Virgil and Donn Guthrie’s Waltz of the Hours was stunning. Fifteen year-old Virgil had me in tears in this spring’s Ballet a la Moderne when she showed off the choreography skills she has honed at SBT, dancing a heartfelt barefoot pas de deux with Guthrie to Hozier’s Work Song. The two return to classic ballet with a vengeance in Coppélia, and deliver the show stopping performance we have learned to expect from them.

Anna Moreale and Kevin Gardener as Discord and War deliver a cleverly choreographed and unexpected “dance off”.

Truly, there are so many standouts, it is only fair to say that each and every dancer to set foot on the stage brings his or her A-game to this production – from the leads right down to the tiniest scarf dancer.

Though I was not there to see it, it was no surprise to hear that in an extremely rare technical glitch, when the music went out in one of the biggest scenes in the production during the opening performance, the dancers paused, and then simultaneously went on to dance flawlessly for eight full minutes in perfectly synchronized silence (including the elaborate entrance and exit of a large group of the very youngest dancers in the production, on an already full stage). Truly Swarthmore Ballet Theatre is a special place where dancers are learning the kind of joyful teamwork that they will carry in their hearts forever, no matter where life leads them.

There is just ONE MORE performance of Coppélia with a few tickets left- June 5th at 2pm. Tickets are sold 30 minutes before the performance. Adults $15.00, Over age 65 and under age 12, $12.00 All seats are reserved. Cash or check only. 

Did seeing Coppélia make you want to dance? Did you know that Swarthmore Ballet Theatre offers choreography classes? And special classes for male dancers, even if they are just beginning? Studying dance at SBT is affordable, and it’s practically a rite of passage for the lucky residents of the Swarthmore area. Be sure to check out the school’s website here:

Questions about what it’s like to have a student at the school?  Here’s an article about it!




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