Several guest dancers have joined the American Ballet Theatre this spring season: in addition to the talented group of principal dancers in the company, New York audiences have had the chance to see world-class dancers from the Royal Ballet (Alina Cojocaru), the Berlin State Opera (Polina Semionova), and the Bolshoi Ballet (Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, who demonstrated their bravura technique and acting chops in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream last week).
This past week, Vasiliev and Osipova have followed up on their successes in The Bright Stream with their performances in Coppélia, as Franz and Swanilda, respectively. Both dancers have a gift for comedic roles like these. (Though Osipova, as demonstrated when she danced Juliet last year, is certainly no slouch when it comes to more dramatic roles as well.) Vasiliev’s manner of dancing, when compared to that of ABT’s principal male dancers, lacks refinement: his feet often don’t look as stretched as they might, and his jumps are so huge, eating up the space around him, that it’s sometimes surprising he doesn’t crash into the wings. That said, this sort of gutsy showiness seems not too out of place in lighthearted ballets like Coppélia–in Giselle it would, of course, present more of a problem.
Osipova dances on a similarly grand scale: her buoyant leaps seem disproportionately large for her small frame (and appear nearly effortless), and her expressive face and upper body register to the whole theater. Her Swanilda is entirely delightful: canny and curious, charming and occasionally petulant. Her interactions with Dr. Coppelius, when she pretends to be a doll (Coppélia) that has come to life, are particularly amusing, as she veers from bored nonchalance to a real inclination (and talent) for instigating mayhem. On the night I saw her, her dancing was clean and expansive throughout, save for some unevenness in the final adagio. These few sticky moments were perhaps unavoidable, as Osipova was a bit too tall for her partner, Daniil Simkin (an otherwise very good Franz).
Xiomara Reyes, dancing opposite Vasiliev, was a less charismatic Swanilda than Osipova, but nevertheless acquitted herself well—it is a good part for her. Happily, she doesn’t let the role become too saccharine (unlike Osipova, whose Swanilda sometimes feels a bit too quaint—too much like the doll she imitates); still, she might bring more life to the part, particularly in the mime sequences.
ABT’s Coppélia lags in the character dances in the first and third act: apart from the thrilling energy Vasiliev brought to the parts he danced (as when he propelled his partner in a vertiginous circle of cabrioles), these pieces fell a bit flat. Yet there is much to like in this production: the second act, in which Franz, Swanilda, and her friends venture timidly into Dr. Coppelius’s workshop, is particularly pleasing—with an appropriate dash of creepiness. Several of the soloist roles were danced remarkably well: Hee Seo was grippingly serene in the Prayer variation, with one piqué arabesque that seemed to float forever, while Stella Abrera was radiant as Dawn. And the group of 12 youngsters from ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, dancing the Waltz of the Hours, danced joyfully and without affectation.